Toronto Sun

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

MOM CHARGED

Police allege fire that sent two sons to hospital was allowed to burn by woman

By IAN ROBERTSON, TORONTO SUN

BRAMPTON -- The mother of three children rescued from a fire that gutted their Mississauga apartment appeared in court yesterday accused of deliberately letting the flames burn.

Appearing tired and stressed, Valora Hart, 37, of Argyle Rd., wiped her eyes with a white tissue after a justice of the peace remanded her in custody until a bail hearing on Friday.

Hart is charged with two counts of arson with disregard for human life causing bodily harm and one count of arson with disregard for human life.

Police say they don't know whether or not the 2:45 a.m. Monday fire in the main-floor condo, in the Dundas St. W. and Confederation Parkway area, was deliberately set but they allege Hart did not try to extinguish it, therefore endangering her life and those of her sons Jordan Francis, 6, and Gerome Francis, 5, and their half-sister Jovannia Smith, 9. The boys remain in hospital suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.

"There was a fire set, but we don't know if it was deliberate," Peel Regional Police Const. Harry Tam said.

Hart is to meet with a psychiatrist before Friday's bail hearing, her lawyer Kingsley Graham told court yesterday.

Insp. Todd Clarke, of the Ontario fire marshal, said the two-alarm blaze was working for about 30 minutes before any 911 calls were made. The first call came from outside the apartment.

George Francis, 39, who insisted yesterday that his wife is not an arsonist, said he rushed from his business, G&C Auto Centre, after talking to her on a phone from their home.

"It only took me seven minutes, but when I pulled up, there were flames coming from one window," he said last night.

Francis said he used an elbow to smash a window and a brick to break a second, crediting his fast action with letting in air that sucked the smoke away from his two sons' bedrooms.

"If I hadn't done that, they would both be dead," he told The Toronto Sun. "Two officers had tried to find them before I did that, but they couldn't breathe and had to get out and the firefighters were at the front of the building, evacuating people."

Francis said he then plucked Jovannia from a balcony, "and put her on the ground."

Before entering court, Jovannia recalled the horror of the fire.

"I wanted to go back inside the house to get my brothers, but there was a lot of smoke," she said. Neighbours said they were dead "and I was crying because I thought they were gone."

A neighbour identified only as Kylie, pulled Jordan from the condo. Mississauga firefighters found Gerome.

Yesterday, Francis and his mother-in-law, Albertha Brown, visited the boys in hospital.

Jordan's left hand was severely burned by flames when he opened his bedroom door, "but they're both going to be okay and that's the main thing," his dad said. Gerome's forehead was cut and smoke had knocked him unconscious.

Francis claimed the apartment's smoke detector "wasn't working too good ... it kept going off," and a repair crew worked on the problem over the weekend.

Copyright © 2002, Canoe, a division of Netgraphe Inc.