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Late-night shopper may have saved Vancouver Island family home from burning down

Extra few minutes helped alert young man to blaze
(Submitted photo)

A Parksville family is counting their blessings after narrowly avoiding a house fire, all thanks to a customer holding up a young man at work for an extra five or 10 minutes.

Katrina Olafsson said her son, Jacob Zack, left his shift at Save-On-Foods a bit late when a customer came in right before close.

Once home, he would normally be in his room playing video games, with his headphones on, but the evening of Jan. 4, he didn’t get right down to gaming because he smelled smoke.

“If that had happened at our regular time scheduled, we wouldn’t be here, or at least the house for sure wouldn’t,” Olafsson said.

Zack came up the stairs and alerted the household, and they began looking for the source of the smoke.

It turned out the smoke was coming from the downstairs kitchen, where a cardboard box full of books, very close to an unused stove, had begun smoking when one of the burners ignited, after it was bumped by the family’s cat.

“I guess he walked in between the box, the heavy box of books and for whatever reason walked up on the stove,” Olafsson said.

She added they later realized it was the cat when they noticed paw prints on the stove, which is an old type where the button needs to to be pushed in and turned to ignite.

Olafsson started screaming for help when she saw the smoke. By the time her partner got downstairs, the bottom of the box of books was on fire, she said.

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“It had already started to combust,” Olafsson said. “It was a huge box of books and thank God they were really heavy and thick and packed tight, so it took longer for the ignition to happen.”

Her partner grabbed the box from the top, which was not yet on fire, ran it to the door and threw it out onto the driveway, after Olafsson opened the door.

By this time the smoke detectors were going off, but Olafsson believes even a minute or two made the difference in the house not burning down. She said she is grateful to the woman who came in at the end of Zack’s shift.

“It would have been too late because even if we had come in that room 20 or 30 seconds later, it would have already blown up the wall and caught everything on fire that was on the counters.”

Olafsson said it was not necessary to call the fire department once the burning box was taken outside and the fire was out. The next day she purchased a few extra smoke alarms and two fire extinguishers. The downstairs stove has been unplugged, she added.

Olafsson hopes to be able to connect with the customer to thank her.

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Katrina Olafsson and her son, Jacob Zack. (Submitted photo)

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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