Starting over, once again; Fire claims everything from refugees

Pabi Baniya, right, and others who live at the Summit Park Apartments watch from across the street as they wait to get back inside their units. (Picture courtesy : Tom Dodge | Dispatch)

The refugee families displaced by a North Side apartment-building fire on Monday night will have to rebuild their lives yet again.

Pabi Baniya, right, and others who live at the Summit Park Apartments watch from across the street as they wait to get back inside their units. (Picture courtesy : Tom Dodge | Dispatch)

Yesterday, families from Bhutan, Somalia and other countries of conflict watched and waited outside the charred Summit Park Apartments.

Many have been in the United States only months, or a few years at most, after being forced to flee their home countries.

The fire, which started about 7:30 p.m., burned too fast for Bhutanese refugees Ani and Ran Khadka to save anything but their two young children and a few documents.

“I took out my babies; I saved my family,” Ani Khadka said, rocking her 10-week-old daughter as her 3-year-old son played underfoot. “God saved us only.”

They weren’t sure what was left of their apartment or when they would be allowed back in. They have been in the U.S. 14 months.

If he’d had a minute more, Ran Khadka said, he would have grabbed academic certificates he earned in Bhutan.

No injuries were reported in the fire, which started in a fenced-in storage area filled with old furniture next to the apartment building at 4349 Walford St. Investigators say it was arson, Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Michael Fowler said, although they don’t know yet how it was set.

Three local agencies that helped resettle many of the families in America now are working to get them back on their feet after the fire.

Kay Lipovsky, office director of World Relief Columbus, said the focus will be on finding shelter, furniture, clothing and replacement documents for the refugees.

The fire is doubly traumatic for families who already have lost their homes once, Lipovsky said. They often have no support network, are just learning English and have low-paying jobs.

Documents such as green cards, photo IDs and other immigration papers can be replaced, she said, but that will take time.

“They’ve come over here with very little. Now, they have nothing.”

Pabi Baniya, 50, clutched all she had yesterday: her purse, cellphone and charger. She stared up at her second-floor unit as her 12-year-old son played nearby.

The Bhutanese woman laughed when asked through a translator what she’d do now.

“What do people do?” she asked.

Baniya, along with nearly 70 other displaced residents, stayed at the temporary shelter set up by the Red Cross at the Fedderson Community Center on Monday night. Of 44 units affected, 10 were destroyed and two others had major damage, a Red Cross spokesman said.

Other units were water-damaged or without electricity.

Thakur Bastola, 22, also from Bhutan, helped carry his ill grandfather and grandmother out of the apartment after the fire started. He expects his apartment, which also housed his two brothers, two uncles and an aunt, is a total loss.

Most of his family went to Cincinnati to stay with other relatives on Monday night. Yesterday, he stood outside, waiting.

“We’re simply watching the house,” he said.

Courtesy : The Columbus Dispatch


  1. Sorry to hear about the loss. It is loss over loss. Very unfortunate to bear all these.

    BTW who in the world would understand where this incident took place… like the city, state, country.

    Reports:< please report professionally and editors please edit professionally- Plz drive BNS professionally… is all I want to say here.

    Columbus- means 112 Columbus for international readers. This is not a local news for Bhutanese readers….