Eight people, including a family of seven Syrian refugees, have been displaced following a house fire in Nanaimo.

Fire crews responded at about 9:30 p.m. Friday to find smoke alarms sounding and all eight occupants of the home safely outside. The Al Zamel family had been celebrating their youngest daughter’s birthday when one of their children noticed smoke coming from the basement of the home.

“I went outside and I saw the fire coming from the downstairs window,” said Mohamed Al Zamel, a student at nearby John Barsby high school.

The cause of the fire is believed to be electrical. CTV News cameras were shown frayed electrical outlets and a power bar in the building’s downstairs, which was heavily smoke-damaged in the blaze. Caitlin Johnston from the AZ Sponsorship Group said the family has lost almost all their possessions.

“In many ways it’s like they’re back to square one, like they’ve just arrived in Canada with nothing after all the work that’s gone into creating a new home,” Johnston said.

“It’s a big challenge for us to rebuild,” said Al Zamel. “ We have to renew everything.”

A fund for the family has been set up at Coastal Community Credit Union. They escaped war in Syria via Jordan in 2016, and Nanaimo has been their home ever since. 

“There’s a lot of love coming from this house,” says Johnston.“They have changed the face of this street for the better.”

Al Zamel fire

Since the fire, the family has stayed at Nanaimo’s Travelodge hotel, and will now stay with friends until a permanent solution is found.

AZ Sponsorship has already located a home in nearby Harewood for the Al Zamels but it won’t be read until Aug. 23.

Al Zamel said the family is grateful for the outpouring of support.

“The community is very lovely. They’re helping us and making us feel like we’re in a safe place.”

In addition to cash donations the AZ Sponsorship is asking for donations of mattresses and furniture.