It took 110 firefighters to extinguish the blaze that, in the words of one Toronto fire official, "completely gutted" their home. The couple only escaped after a barking dog alerted them to the smoke. But they lost their five cats, which Wawanash said "were life itself to us."
Video has since emerged that appears to show someone in the vicinity of the fire, then approaching it with something in his arms. Police have deemed the incident an arson.
"He took our lives," said Wawanash, who has spent three decades working as an editor and publisher. Her life's work was almost entirely lost in the blaze.
The couple, who rented the same unit for nearly 30 years but were unable to secure insurance, got a helping hand from the firefighters' union Thursday.
This morning some of the firefighters that responded to the call met Porter and Wawanash outside the charred remains of their old abode and presented them with a cheque for $500 and a new cell phone to help with day-to-day communications. A local moving company is also supplying a truck and storage — free of charge — until the couple can find a new home.
The union has also helped put them up in a motel while they look for new living arrangements.
"They've been so supportive of us, Sheila and I, through this ... I'm astounded," said Porter.
The fire crew also spent several hours picking through the debris, trying to salvage whatever possessions weren't destroyed.
"For many years, we have reached out to families to assist in putting their lives back together after a fire has occurred," said Ed Kennedy, president of the Toronto firefighters' union.
Living on a fixed income, however, rent in Kensington Market is now far out of reach for Porter and Wawanash. But the couple said they're eternally grateful to the crews that fought to save their home and for their acts of kindness since.
Now they have to try to rebuild their lives.
"We don't have plans beyond the next breath at this point. It's not even day to day, it's breath to breath. And I'm glad to be breathing," said Wawanash.
Watch a time-lapse video of the fire shot by a neighbour below, or click here to watch it on mobile.