Pictures of burning houses in Owen Sound seemed surreal. The images of destruction brought pain and anger. News reports said everyone escaped and that injuries were minor, so there was momentary relief. Then, the number of fire sites grew, and the fear of arson brought emotions that were deeply dislocating.

For those who watched flames consume their homes, pain and worry burned into their hearts and spirits. Those whose homes were destroyed were adrift: they did not know where they would sleep that night, where they would live. For the neighbours evacuated as a precaution, there was a mix of worry and hope.

Families lost everything, large and small. The photos and mementos that help a person to trace the story of their lives were gone for good. And for those who lived at the edge of their means, especially those with no insurance, each step forward was going to be hard work.

Community social services immediately rallied. Counsellors came to talk. Housing and support services got to work.

At the fires, Owen Sound Fire Services called in in the volunteers of Inter-township and Chatsworth. They fought hard to keep the blazes from spreading. Emergency Medical Services and Owen Sound Police were also on the scene. Each of these first responders would have been focussed on the moment, but also remembered other fires. The memories would have to be dealt with later.

Quickly, all of the first responders must have realized that arson was likely. I suspect that this shaped their reaction: even when the fires were out, they were not going off duty. Until the arsonists were caught, the spree might continue. So the next night, Owen Sound Firefighters and EMS personnel at work would not have slept. Volunteers from Inter-township and Chatsworth would have remained on alert.

Police had a task right in front of them. Extra officers were called in to patrol the streets. What a weight of responsibility they must have felt as they watched for any sign, any clue, anything unusual. In the early hours of Tuesday, they arrested one youth.

Early Monday, our whole community felt the shock, but for those living in Owen Sound, Monday night must have been a fear-filled time. Police warned people to lock their sheds, leave all outside lights on, and to be vigilant. People checked and double checked their smoke alarms. Those living alone must have felt uneasy. Parents would have gotten up in the night to check their houses, to look outside their homes.

When police announced they had made a second arrest but that at least one more was pending, residents and first responders had another night on high alert. It will be a long time before people feel secure.

From the moment news of house fires was broadcast, the community blanketed the victims with compassion. This was made concrete as people offered money and material goods. These families will be supported as they work to build a new life.

Again on Facebook, there have been postings that thank the first responders. Exhaustion, anger, and pride at a job well done are only some of the feelings these men and women will be dealing with. They too need to be supported by our compassion.

The people of Owen Sound need caring support as well. Disbelief and horror hit hard. An arson spree hit our community. Violence usually seen on TV crime dramas came here. Coming to terms with this new reality will take time.

When news came that a seventeen year old from Chatsworth had been arrested, I realized his family would need support. Chatsworth is a big place so I might not know his family, but someone is their neighbour. Families of the others involved will also need a compassionate ear as they face the violence their son or daughter was capable of.