Strangers unite to help Penticton woman recover after devastating house fire

Penticton resident Linda Paksec (centre left) lost everything in a March house fire. Three strangers have since come together to help Paksec piece her life back together. (Jesse Day - Western News)
A group of strangers have united to help Linda Paksec return to normal after her life was shaken by a house fire in March. Pictured above is Paksec’s Duncan Avenue home months after it was damaged by the fire. (Jesse Day - Western News)
A group of strangers have united to help Linda Paksec return to normal after her life was shaken by a house fire in March. Pictured above is Paksec’s Duncan Avenue home months after it was damaged by the fire. (Jesse Day - Western News)
A group of strangers have united to help Linda Paksec return to normal after her life was shaken by a house fire in March. Pictured above is Paksec’s Duncan Avenue home months after it was damaged by the fire. (Jesse Day - Western News)
A group of strangers have united to help Linda Paksec return to normal after her life was shaken by a house fire in March. Pictured above is Paksec’s Duncan Avenue home months after it was damaged by the fire. (Jesse Day - Western News)
A group of strangers have united to help Linda Paksec return to normal after her life was shaken by a house fire in March. Pictured above is Paksec’s Duncan Avenue home months after it was damaged by the fire. (Jesse Day - Western News)
A group of strangers have united to help Linda Paksec return to normal after her life was shaken by a house fire in March. Pictured above is Paksec’s Duncan Avenue home months after it was damaged by the fire. (Jesse Day - Western News)
A group of strangers have united to help Linda Paksec return to normal after her life was shaken by a house fire in March. Pictured above is Paksec’s Duncan Avenue home months after it was damaged by the fire. (Jesse Day - Western News)
A group of strangers have united to help Linda Paksec return to normal after her life was shaken by a house fire in March. Pictured above is Paksec’s Duncan Avenue home months after it was damaged by the fire. (Jesse Day - Western News)

Five months after losing everything in a devastating house fire, Penticton resident Linda Paksec is still struggling to piece her life back together.

Linda’s situation is bleak.

Her husband, Michael, passed away three weeks after the fire. He turned 66 two days prior to his death.

Their 33-year-old daughter Danielle, who has special needs, is now living with a home-share provider.

Since the fire, Linda has been living in a motel paying $1,400 a month in rent.

To support herself the 64-year-old works five days a week at McDonald’s from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. She recently found a suitable apartment that she moved into Monday, Sept. 7.

Right now, Linda has no idea how she is going to get back on her feet.

But three selfless strangers have come together to give the recently widowed woman, at the very least, a small glimmer of hope.

Linda Paksec’s Penticton home on Duncan Avenue has been sitting vacant since a “devastating” house fire in March, 2020. (Jesse Day – Western News)

READ MORE: No hesitation; two bystanders assist in Penticton house fire rescue

Lori Capozzi, a 50-year-old self-described ‘good Samaritan,’ Rochelle Diaz, a 22-year-old Okanagan College student, and 47-year-old Gord Portman, the man who helped saved Paksec’s life during the fire, have been spending a handful of hours each day helping to piece her life back together.

This includes cleaning the Duncan Avenue home and salvaging Paksec’s belongings that haven’t been destroyed by the fire, helping her find a new apartment, setting up a GoFundMe page and many other various tasks.

The three have donated countless hours to a woman who was a stranger just months ago.

Paksec and her family had no fire insurance. The house was inherited by Paksec’s husband through his parents, and is in his name, further complicating the situation.

Her husband had recently taken the insurance off the house before the fire, as he had planned on selling it.

“He knew so many things that he never told me,” said Paksec.

“I don’t know what was in his head.”

Paksec’s living situation at the motel was less than perfect, explained Diaz.

According to the group, she was often asked to share her room with strangers and complete general cleaning tasks for no compensation.

Paksec also says she has had multiple personal belongings stolen while staying at the motel.

Capozzi has been the catalyst of finding Linda help following the fire.

The 47-year-old foster parent said she simply couldn’t stand by and watch Paksec’s struggle. Capozzi, who had no previous relationship with Paksec, said she would drive by Paksec’s boarded up, abandoned house multiple times a day.

“It had been about four months (after the fire) and I thought to myself, ‘Why isn’t anyone helping this woman?’” recalled Capozzi.

Capozzi had read about how Gord Portman, a bystander to the fire, had assisted in saving Paksec and her family when the fire broke out.

As previously reported by The Western News, saving Paksec and her family was the “wake-up call” that motivated Portman to get clean and sober.

Capozzi, who is in recovery herself, contacted Portman while he was living at Discovery House Treatment Centre.

Portman put Capozzi in contact with Paksec and from there the pair began the long process of helping her get back on her feet.

Diaz described Capozzi as “the most selfless person” she’s ever met.

“I kind of came out nowhere. I’m just a good Samaritan that wanted to help,” said Capozzi. “It’s who I am. I’ve always been like that. I don’t care how much people take, I will always be like that.

“It makes me happy to help others…it brings me joy to my heart.”

Diaz’s involvement could be described similarly to Capozzi’s.

Diaz came across a social media post from Capozzi detailing the countless hardships Linda has faced and decided she too needed to become involved.

“I decided I needed to help because, like, who wouldn’t?” said Diaz.

“Why wouldn’t you help this poor lady?”

Diaz has taken on the role of trying to share Linda’s story online and possibly gain some sort of corporate sponsorship.

She recently helped a family in Summerland victimized by racist vandalism, assisting them in getting home security, free of charge.

So far nothing has come to fruition, but the young Okanagan College student is determined to keep trying.

READ MORE: Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Summerland home

“I was thankful when Rochelle came into the picture because I couldn’t keep doing this on my own,” said Capozzi.

Although there is still lots of work to be done, Paksec is already eternally grateful to these three strangers.

“Oh god, I don’t know where I’d be without them…I’d be sitting in the (motel) room…” said Paksec fighting off her tears. “I want my life back.”

Since Paksec’s home has been abandoned and left in a decrepit state it has been frequently broken into and taken over by squatters.

The living room is littered with drug paraphernalia and Paksec’s belongings that haven’t been destroyed by the fire have been rummaged through and her valuables stolen.

Penticton RCMP confirmed June 30 that RCMP and city bylaw officers had attended the structure with reports of people inside it.

City bylaw officials stated the home would be boarded up and left in the hands of the owner to determine if it can be repaired.

After the fire, Paksec’s home has been frequently broken into by squatters. Drug paraphernalia can be found throughout the home which has been “torn apart” by squatters. (Jesse Day -Western News)

Portman checks on the house twice a day, and is constantly boarding up the windows to keep squatters out. Despite his efforts, he said the squatters will break the boards to get back in.

Portman said he’s even chased some individuals off the property.

“There was heroin and a big bag of meth on the table, they just made themselves at home,” said Portman of the first time he tried to chase people from the residence. “They had all this (stolen) stuff in bags that was worth money.”

Linda recently entered the house for the first time in weeks. She was devastated by what she saw.

“Everything was all over the place, all my jewelry is gone.”

What’s Next?

There are a handful of things that need to be taken care of before Paksec’s life can return to some sort of normalcy.

The most pressing issue was to find Paksec a better living situation, but finding a new apartment has solved this problem, at least temporarily.

However amidst all of this, she said she hasn’t had much opportunity to grieve.

What happens next for her is still unclear. The group is unsure what the best course of action is to take with the house. The two things that Paksec wants, however, are clear: “I want my daughter back and a place to live.”

Paksec made it clear she does not want to return to living in her old home, even if it can be restored.

“It’s not home anymore,” said Paksec. “When you see all the drug stuff on the floor and all my clothes all over the place…who does that?”

Capozzi has launched a GoFundMe page for Paksec which has raised about $2,500 so far. Despite everything Paksec been through, she still has trouble accepting outside help.

She recently urged Capozzi to donate the money raised on through the GoFundMe page to someone who “needs it more.”

That being said, Paksec is still extremely thankful for the help she’s received. “It’s just been rough and I’m thankful for these guys,” she said.

Capozzi said there is still plenty of work to be done to give Paksec some peace of mind. “We’re plucking along and it’s going to be a long process,” said Capozzi. “We’re just a small team but we’re trying.”

All of Paksec’s furniture was destroyed in the fire, leaving her with nothing to furnish her new apartment. She currently owns only an air mattress. The group is currently seeking furniture donations.

Anyone willing to donate furniture is encouraged to contact Capozzi at 604-720-7082.

Donations to the Paksec’s GoFundMe page can be made at gofundme.com/f/Desperately-seekinghelp-Severe-House-Fire-Survivor.

House fire

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