One couple who will not be wanting to put the fire back into their relationship this Valentine’s Day are Nadia and Vaughn Gallant, of Goodwood.
Glowing embers, sparks, flaming arrows of love, heat of passion and all other combustion-related romance cliches are unlikely to find a warm welcome at the Gallant home, when Cupid takes flight with his bow this week.
That’s because the Goodwood couple have spent the last year rebuilding after their Riebeeck Street home and most of its contents were destroyed by fire on Valentine’s Day last year.
On that fateful night, Nadia and Vaughn left their two children and Nadia’s three younger siblings with family while they went out for a romantic evening – something they seldom did (“Community rallies behind family”, Northern News, February 22, 2017).
“Everything started out smoothly and we left home around 6.30pm,” Nadia recalls.
They had just settled into their chairs in the movie theatre to watch Fifty Shades Darker when they got a “frantic call” at 6.55pm: their house was on fire.
They raced home where they saw a huge plume of black smoke billowing from their house. The road had already been cordoned off, but Vaughn drove through the tape. A huge crowd had already gathered.
“We thought this couldn’t be from our house and panic and terror set in, a feeling that still haunts us to this day. All we could think of in that moment was the well-being of our children,’’ said Nadia.
“We were both in a frenzy, pushing through the crowd, trying to locate our children,” Vaughn said.
They saw a family friend, Ameera Abrahams, and ran to her “screaming and crying”, asking after the children.
“She assured us that they were fine and at a neighbour’s house. Luckily the two adults in the house had the presence of mind to evacuate the kids to the backyard, where my neighbour pulled them over the wall. The girls and the two younger boys were still naked, because they were bathing at the time,” Vaughn said.
The fire truck arrived at 7.15pm and firefighters sprang into action. Within three minutes they had the hoses going, but by then the fire had already spread past the lounge.
“I felt absolutely helpless and distressed and overcome by emotion,” Nadia said.
“The fire was so intense they called on a second fire truck to assist, and had to make use of a nearby fire hydrant. It took them approximately 45 minutes to bring the fire under control, and a further 30 minutes before they left.”
Later the couple heard from the fire department that the blaze had started in the ceiling, presumably caused by faulty electrical wiring.
“We lost about 85% of our household contents and the house was about 85% damaged, with only a few walls standing,’’ Nadia said.
Fortunately, Vaughn said, they were insured and had spent the past year rebuilding.
“We were able to have the house rebuilt with minor changes made to the kitchen and dining area.”
Vaughn first met Nadia at her late mom’s take-away in 1999. The couple have been married for seven years and have two children, Seth, 3, and Leah, 9.
“He was a regular customer, but I think he was more interested in me than the food. There was definite chemistry, and we never looked back from there,” Nadia said.
“We both come from fairly humble beginnings and have forged our way through life and our careers to be privileged enough to be in decent jobs and fulfilling our dream of owning our own home.
“We have always depended on each other for strength and support. This event has brought us even closer together as partners, ironically because of the tragic event on Valentine’s Day last year.”
While insurance covered the R1.6 million it had cost to rebuild their home, Vaughn said they had been “hopelessly under-insured” on their contents. They have also faced the stress of being in a kind of limbo for the past year.
“The inconvenience of living with family members was strenuous on us because we had to depend on other people to donate clothes and bedding among other things,” he said.
“Renting another house for six months where we could not really do the things we wanted to due the rules of the landlord was also taxing on us.”
“We could never have overcome this major event without each other, and we’ve never depended on each other more.”
They thanked everyone who had helped them over the past year, including family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances as well as the fire department.
As for their plans for Valentine’s Day this year? They’ll be staying in.
“It’s a case of once bitten twice shy,” Nadia said. “We will just have a romantic dinner with the children.”