The investigation into Saturday’s house fire in Angus is still ongoing, but the healing for a young father and his kids left homeless is only beginning.
Cassandra Brunelle was hoping to be with her boyfriend, Justin Hunt, for a kids-free Saturday night on Jan. 9. While his two children were at their grandmother’s residence for a visit, Brunelle had her four kids at home with her.
“With six kids between us, it isn’t very often we get alone time to enjoy the quiet,” Brunelle told BarrieToday. “I was supposed to be at his place that, night but couldn’t make it.”
Brunelle said the 33-year-old Hunt was going to watch some movies and head to bed.
But Brunelle’s phone rang at 5:39 a.m. It was a call from Hunt's neighbour.
“He was sleeping and was woken up by his coughing because of all the smoke. He opened the bedroom door and saw the fire in the kitchen,” Brunelle said. “He was very disoriented and had taken in a lot of smoke already.”
Essa Township firefighters received the call around 5:30 a.m. for a house fire on Margaret Street.
When Brunelle got the call from Hunt’s neighbour, her boyfriend was with paramedics.
Hunt was in very bad condition, with severe burns to his back and left arm. He had also taken a lot of smoke into his lungs.
Brunelle says she has seen some reports of what happened and that he had immediately jumped out a window.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
“He saw the fire in the kitchen and, at that point, was very disoriented from the smoke inhalation," she said. "He went to get his kids and get them out of the house and it wasn't until he opened their door he remembered they were at their grandma’s house. He was already on fire by the time he reached their door and then he went out a back window.”
Severely burned, Hunt went around to the front of the house when he heard the family dog barking.
“The broken window happened because Justin punched it in and tried to get the dog,” Brunelle said. “In doing so, he got badly cut from the glass.”
Rushed to Barrie's Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) by Simcoe County paramedics, Hunt received 40 staples that are keeping his arm together.
Hunt fell into a coma and was then placed into a medically induced coma because doctors were concerned with the state of his esophagus. They wanted to hook him up to a breathing machine, but, as Brunelle says, somehow he woke up.
“I don’t know how he woke up from the coma, but his lungs just got working and he came to,” she said. “He was initially in the trauma wing, then moved to ICU (the intensive care unit) and now he’s in a regular room. All of this since Saturday.”
Brunelle says Hunt is in “extreme pain” and was meeting with surgeons about a possible procedure yesterday.
She knows it will be a long road of operations and recovery.
Brunelle started a GoFundMe page to help Hunt and two kids with personal belongings they had lost, which was essentially everything.
“The kids were at grandma’s with a sleepover bag and he left the house with nothing that night, obviously,” Brunelle said. “His kids will be with me and he needs to focus on recovery, so I turned to the community for help for them to rebuild when he is out.”
The $10,000 goal was set just over 24 hours ago and it was at more than $8,600, which Brunelle says blows her away.
“I am in awe of the support the community has given, I truly am,” she said. “I have been involved with my community for a long time and felt I may be able to get the word out, but this is absolutely outstanding. We are very thankful.”
Help has come from around the country and as far away as England.
BarrieToday contacted Nottawasaga OPP for an update on the investigation, but had not heard back as of publication time.
Brunelle said it was her understanding that the fire was not being considered suspicious and it “had something to do with the house.”
For more on the GoFundMe page and how to donate, click here.