Hours after he wrapped up a protest for better housing on their First Nation, Bobby Ballantyne awoke to learn his mother and her partner had died in a trailer fire in Grand Rapids, Man.
“I want to believe that it’s not true, but it is true and I can’t do anything about it. I feel sad, I feel angry, I feel, I don’t know what to feel actually, so much stuff is running through my mind, so many emotions are taking over my body,” Bobby Ballantyne said when reached on the Misipawistik Cree Nation by phone Sunday.
Ballantyne said his mother, Michelle Cook, 50, and her partner, David Scott, 48, were killed when the old trailer they were living in caught fire early Saturday morning. A spokesperson for the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
“They lived in a trailer that was in desperate need of repairs and she would tell me all the problems all the time when she would come over and visit.”
David’s brother, Wayne Scott, said he and other people from the community cut five holes in the trailer and crawled inside to try to save the couple, but they weren’t successful.
“One of the girls said, ‘I hear them, I hear them, cut right here,’ and so I cut a hole there but I was too late, they went by already.”
He said the front door on the trailer was locked from the inside with a padlock his brother used to secure it.
He said the Grand Rapids Fire Department didn’t come to put the fire out, but wasn’t sure why.
RCMP said two bodies were found after they received a report of a trailer on fire on Beardy Point Road in Grand Rapids around 1:50 a.m. CT Saturday.
Ballantyne wasn’t sure if the trailer had a smoke detector. He said when he arrived after 4 a.m. the trailer had burned to the ground and no fire crews were around.
The fire comes just four days after Ballantyne set up a tent outside the community’s band office to demand better living conditions.
On Friday evening, Ballantyne had been told his protest was successful and a housing committee would be set up. He wants a better house for his children to live in.
Trailer went up ‘like a cardboard box’
The trailer Cook and Scott lived in was old and passed down from Scott’s parents, Ballantyne said. It had no heat and leaked water that caused mould. Cook had to leave the oven open at night to keep the place warm in the winter, Ballantyne said.
He isn’t sure if that’s how the fire started but said it wouldn’t take much for the trailer to go up in flames.
“It’s a trailer, it’s like a cardboard box, right — if you put a match to it, it’s going to go up in flames,” Ballantyne said.
Ballantyne estimated there are about 20 trailers still left on his reserve and he hopes people will be able to move out of them into homes in the future. After his protest, the band gave him a letter agreeing to develop terms of reference for a new housing committee to be created.
But for now, he is grieving the loss of two loved ones he said still had a lot of life left.
“My mom and her partner were very kind humble people. They were harmless. They wouldn’t hurt a fly. They were always happy to see other people and greet other people with smiles.”
Neither the Grand Rapids Fire Department or Misipawistik’s chief could be reached for comment Sunday.