Fire-displaced couple gets help

Barb Sweet
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Butlers offered new placement and allowed to reclaim belongings

On Wednesday evening, Sandra Butler was sobbing in her daughter’s kitchen, but by Thursday she was upbeat and happy — her housing dilemna had turned into a happy ending.

Sandra and Don Butler display provincial asbestos regulations. The couple found out Thursday that the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. will let them take their belongings from a fire-damaged unit. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

“It’s good news. Good for Christmas, too,” said Butler, whose Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) unit on Hoyles Avenue in St. John’s caught fire in November.

Butler and her husband, Don, said they had lived in housing for decades with no issues.

After a stove fire broke out while Butler was cooking, she blamed it on herself in the panic,  she said. They were initially to be evicted because it was believed to be fat-fire related, although Butler said she had only a tiny amount of oil in the pot for frying.

It wasn’t the eviction that had Butler distraught.

The couple were unable to claim their belongings — including winter clothing, photographs, family keepsakes, tools and other items dear to them — because of possible asbestos contamination.

However, on Thursday, Butler said NLHC offered them placement in a seniors’ building and told them they would be able to get their belongings back. She said they’ll have to have the items cleaned because asbestos-containing plaster was disturbed during the kitchen fire.

“They are saying the fire made spores in the air,” said Butler, who was pleased with their treatment by the NLHC.

She had appealed to St. John’s North independent MHA Dale Kirby for help and had told her story to The Telegram, but said NLHC resolved the matter for the longstanding tenants on Thursday.

A lesson Butler learned was the importance of tenants’ insurance, which she realizes she should have had.

NLHC spokeswoman Jenny Bowring said an asbestos inventory was completed on its housing units years ago.

For residents whose units contain plaster, drywall or other components with some asbestos content, their lease warns them not to put holes in the wall or attempt any repairs on their own, Bowring said.

NLHC workers are supposed to follow abatement practices when making repairs, such as wearing protective gear and making sure the area is sealed off.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are present in the air and people breathe them into their lungs. Fibres can be released into the air when asbestos-containing products break down through deterioration or when the material is cut or disturbed.

As for the offer of a seniors’ unit, Bowring said NLHC is glad the matter worked out for the Butlers.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Geographic location: Hoyles Avenue

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Recent comments

  • Joe Barnes
    December 06, 2013 - 16:46

    Isn't housing to help you get on your feet? To help you out when you have small children? Why did this couple use housing for decades? Why can't they rent a 1 bedroom apartment? Everyone wants a hand out

  • It takes exposure to get officials to act.
    December 06, 2013 - 11:41

    The ONLY reason she got her stuff back this week is because she called VOCM Backtalk with Paddy Daly and aired the whole issue on the air. The govt. was saying it was too dangerous to let her in and give her her stuff because it was all contaminated, yet govt. officials were going in and out without HASMAT suits. She wasn't pleased with NL Housing when she called the show I can tell you!

  • geri
    December 06, 2013 - 09:10

    It's so good to hear that NLHC acted in a timely manner, to help Mr. & Mrs. Butler. (:)