This happened around 5:00 AM on March 15, 2018

My younger brother woke me up in a panic and alerted me to smoke in our home. We immediately alarmed my entire family and we left the apartment in a hurry. Still half asleep, I could barely register what was happening.

My mom and sister were coughing as we made our way out, screaming for us to leave. My younger brother tried to stop the fire. I rushed to the kitchen to help him, but quickly knew I had to get him to leave with me, the fire was getting out of hand so fast.

That's when I saw the heating vent amber between the walls. A malfunction in a heat vent had engulfed our bathroom in flames. Smoke continued to fill our home and I had encouraged my brother to leave and called the emergency services right away! Once outside, I was hit with a flood of emotions and lack of words took the best of me as I tried to convey the situation to the emergency responders. Luckily, they arrived at the scene in minutes.

As we rushed out of our home I knew I had to grab my most valuables and take off. I didn't even have time to put on my socks and shoes. Outside, fire department rushed in and filled the entire block full of emergency vehicles. I stood there, with only a t-shirt and jeans, on my bare feet, freezing in the cold morning.

I turned to my brave 13-year-old sister and told her to run to every neighbor's home, with the realization that our apartment is attached to other apartments. My body was warm, heart race fast and my feet blue from the ice cold pavement. As I watched everything unfold, seeing a line of firefighters each wielding a different tool to gut and save our apartment, I knew deep down this, was it I knew the apartment I grew up in, full of memories, was going to burn away.

My instinct kicked in and I felt I had to document this horrible event. Neighbors quickly gathered amongst us as I can hear the chatter whisper in my ears. Still frozen and in a petrified, dream-like state, I could not get rid of the cedar burnt smell and the glowing light that started this all. I took a deep breath and thanked God that my family was safe.

A police Sergeant escorted all the neighbors, along with my family and I, across the street. The Toronto Police Department blocked traffic and escorted everyone to a streetcar thanks to the support of the TTC. A firefighter and my brother were able to find me a jacket and construction boots in the meantime, for which I was very grateful.

Distracted at the mere sight of it all, I soon realized I was separated from my family and then I received the call. It turned out that my sister and my mother had inhaled smoke. Highly concerned I finish my report with the sergeant and rush to see her. My mother was not in a good state as I tried to calm her down.

The ambulance decided it was for the best to process her and take her to the hospital. I took it upon myself to inform and assist the Fire Department. Before I knew it, hours had passed.

The sun began to peak, only after a few hours the Fire Department went through their standard protocol, an experience I was unfamiliar with.

Once the fire was completely put out, they mentioned that if I called five minutes later our entire apartment would be disintegrated. “Quickly as thin paper burns when it meets fire” the firefighter described.

Unsure what to think, some rooms were salvaged but the aftermath was full of destruction and left our once familiar home unrecognizable and broke our family's heart. I can still smell it. A smell none of us will not forget anytime soon.

I'm not sure how to feel or think at this point, but for my family, for our home, for our loss. I thought I can use the support of my community as I am unsure what to do.

I will do anything in my power to help my family.

Whether or not you donate, we will rise from the ashes and fly to a place of strength.

I thank you for the time to read my story and giving wishful thoughts and prayers to me and my family.  

From the deepest part of my heart,

Brian Quintero 

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Brian Quintero 
Toronto, ON
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