‘I thought it was going to blow up’: Mount Forest family awakes to find car, shed burning

Several recent fires in Mount Forest deemed suspicious, being investigated by Wellington OPP

MOUNT FOREST – It’s shortly after 3am on a recent Sunday when Ryan Smithers awakes.

In the backyard of the Cork Street home were he lives with his fiance Sarah Vrooman and her three children, Smithers sees their shed glowing brightly with flames.

Smithers wakes Vrooman, who calls 911, and goes to fetch a garden hose to fight the fire — only to find that Sarah’s Hyundai Tucson parked in the driveway is also ablaze, with flames spreading to the home’s garage.

Evelyn, who is 14, is roused by her mom yelling loudly into a phone.

Shaking off the sleep, Evelyn races to wake her siblings, 19-year-old Hannah and 12-year-old Wesley.

Barefoot and in their pyjamas, the family runs from their home and through a flower bed at the front, avoiding the burning car in the driveway.

Mere minutes after Smithers first awoke in the early morning hours of June 4, the family runs down Cork Street as neighbours begin to gather.

“I thought it was going to blow up,” Vrooman said of the car in a June 16 phone call.

“I was trying to keep it together for the kids; they were all pretty shocked. It’s just kind of unbelievable.”

It felt as though firefighters “took forever” to arrive, Vrooman remarked.

Unbeknownst to her, about half-an-hour before Smithers saw the shed fire, volunteer firefighters with Wellington North Fire Service were called to a fire that razed a Wellington Produce Packaging storage building on Sligo Road, about a kilometre away.

As Vrooman called her parents, who live nearby, to collect her children, firefighters brought out Cooper, the family’s 15-year-old Bichon Frisé dog.

After the fires were extinguished, Vrooman and Smithers were able to return to the home.

“We came back into the house once we were able to, and kind of tried to stay out of the smoky areas; we weren’t going to sleep anyway,” she said.

Ultimately nobody was hurt in the fire, and the only significant loss was Vrooman’s vehicle, which had been the family’s only way of getting around for the past five years.

An insurance claim, if successful, will go to paying off the remaining chunk of money owed on the destroyed vehicle.

The family’s home is rented, and the landlord has been “fantastic,” Vrooman said, adding repair work began quickly.

Regardless, Vrooman said the experience has been traumatic.

“And obviously realizing that someone did this, I mean it was pretty scary,” she said.

“The car was intentionally set on fire … the fire was set on the hood of the car.”

Vrooman believes the family was targeted, suggesting that two fires happening at once on either side of the home is more than a coincidence.

Vrooman also said the family has “an idea” about who may have started the fires.

Others in the community have also come forward with a specific name, she added.

Mount Forest resident Sarah Vrooman and her three children. Submitted supplied


But the information remains conjecture as Wellington OPP’s crime unit leads an investigation into several recent fires in the community that police consider suspicious.

Since June 8, police haven’t provided any updates on the investigation into the car or shed fires, or three other fires in separate incidents in Mount Forest between June 4 and 8.

The first few days following the fires were “pretty tough,” Vrooman said. “Nobody was sleeping very well.”

She and Smithers took time off work, and the children a few days away from school.

“A lot of police” were hanging around initially, she said.

“We had to give statements to the investigators; that was all pretty intense.”

Surveillance cameras have since been installed at the home, and though Vrooman worries about more fires being started, things are gradually returning to normal.

Vrooman has since returned to her job as a support worker, Smithers to his at a factory, and her children to school.

A GoFundMe campaign to replace the family’s lost wages, started by Vrooman’s coworker Heather McTavish, has raised $1,380 toward a $5,000 goal, as of June 16.

On Friday, contractors were in and out of the home repairing the garage and carpets.

Vrooman had taken the day off to look at a possible replacement for the charred Tucson.

The fear Vrooman says the family felt immediately after the fires has since become less consuming.

“I’m hoping for this to be over soon,” she said.

“I just want it all to be over with so we can stop thinking about it.”