By Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press
Two weeks ago, Luis Felipa praised his daughter for turning her life around.
Raven Alisha Ali-O’Dea had been a rebellious teenager, he explained, but had transformed into a grown, responsible woman.
“(I said,) ‘Raven, you know, I’m so proud of you, the way you changed your life around.’
“Her cheeks were both pink. She says, ‘Dad, you’re making me blush,’ because normally I don’t just give compliments like that.
“I’m so glad that I told her,” Felipa recalled, his voice shaking.
Those were his last words to her.
Ali-O’Dea, 29, her husband Nazir Ali, 28, and their children – seven-year-old Layla Rose Ali-O’Dea, eight-year-old Jayden Prince Ali-O’Dea, and 10-year-old Alia Marilyn Ali-O’Dea – died early Monday morning after a fire tore through their Brampton, Ont., home.
Felipa’s ex-wife and Raven Alisha Ali-O’Dea’s mother, Bonnie O’Dea, who lived with the family, was transported to a trauma centre in critical condition. Two tenants living in the basement of the home were able to evacuate without any injuries.
Felipa has barely been able to sleep since as he’s tried to understand what went wrong.
“They lived six years in there with no problems,” he said.
Felipa said his daughter and son-in-law purchased the home last year from the landlord they were renting from at a steal because the landlord cared about his daughter. He said his father then gave her some money to renovate.
Ali-O’Dea and Ali decided to renovate the entire home, hiring a team to replace the floors, stove, lights and paint. The renovations wrapped up two months ago.
The cause, origin and circumstances of the fire are under investigation.
Felipa said he’s been wondering if the renovations had anything to do with the fire – were the smoke alarms put back in after the painters took them out? But he said he’s done speculating because it’s “killing” him.
He’s now anxiously waiting for the results of the Office of the Fire Marshal, Peel Regional Police and Brampton Fire and Emergency Services’ investigation.
Felipa said his daughter used to work long hours at a landscaping company, starting her day at 4 a.m., working until about noon, picking up the kids from school in the afternoon, and returning to work until 8 p.m. He said Ali worked as a delivery driver and that he loved him like his own son, describing him as an affectionate father.
The two were high school sweethearts. They worked hard to give their kids the best life they could, Felipa said, often taking them to Niagara Falls, Ont., where they loved to visit an indoor waterpark, buying them lots of clothes and toys and always keeping their fridge stocked so they would never go hungry.
“They were very, very good to them,” Felipa said. “Whatever they wanted, they had.”
Before the pandemic hit, Felipa used to take his grandchildren to Canada’s Wonderland every year. A few days before the fire, he told his grandson Jayden they would go back this summer to make up for not being able to go the two previous years.
“It was a ritual,” he said.
Felipa said Jayden was “so happy” with the plan to go to Wonderland again because the “adventurous” kid who was “full of adrenalin” had grown taller since they last went in 2019 and was hoping to ride bigger roller-coasters.
He described Layla as a “rambunctious” little girl who was “strong” and “determined.”
Alia, whose middle name Marilyn was given in honour of Felipa’s late daughter, loved to sing and dance. Felipa said he has long had a photo of him with Alia set as his phone’s wallpaper and doesn’t plan to change it.
“I’m so glad that the short life that (they) lived, … they lived a good life,” he said.
In the wake of the fire at the Ali-O’Dea home, Ontario Fire Marshal Jon Pegg and Brampton Fire Chief Bill Boyes have advised residents to ensure they have working smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and a home escape plan.
Boyes said firefighters and fire prevention officers checked homes in the area earlier this week and found that some of them did not have working smoke alarms.
“We can’t see more people in the province of Ontario and city of Brampton perish in a fire,” Boyes told reporters outside the burned home on Tuesday. “It’s completely unacceptable and it’s completely preventable.”
Felipa said his goal now is to become an advocate on the issue of fire prevention, noting he plans to speak to officials in the City of Brampton and Ontario government about enacting a law or measure in which firefighters can visit homes at least once a year to ensure their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
He’s also planning to use whatever money is raised through a benefit fundraiser and memorial event being held on May 21 in Brampton to purchase smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to give to local firefighters to distribute them to residents who can’t afford them.
“I don’t want nobody, nobody to go through what I’m going through,” he said through tears. “This is a terrible thing to go through.”
A funeral is being held for the Ali-O’Dea family Saturday morning at Jame Masjid in Mississauga, Ont. It’s open to the public.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2022.
Feature image via The Canadian Press