Living in fear

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 27/96) - Kate Tompkins is living in fear of a man she believes burned her house to the ground.

The Yellowknife woman says she wasn't shocked when she returned to her Pickerel Lake home last Wednesday night to find police and fire trucks on her property.

"A strong, acrid, smoke smell filled the air," she says. "I had been threatened a few days before, so I knew right away what had happened. I knew he had done something." Police are calling the fire suspicious, but haven't yet made any arrests.

The investigation prevents Tompkins from talking about the man she says destroyed her house. She will, however, say he was someone she thought was a trusted friend.

Her fear of the man is keeping her in hiding. Only her closest friends know where she's staying.

"I don't even know if I'll rebuild out there (Pickerel Lake) while this guy's still in town," she says.

As she sifts through the ashes of what used to be her home, she remembers the night of the fire.

Only a few hours before the fire, she had gone to the RCMP in Yellowknife after the man allegedly threatened to burn down her house.

"I went there to tell them that I thought I might be in danger and to find out what they thought I should do," she said.

Tompkins is still in the process of trying to get a peace bond against the man, who's still in Yellowknife.

Sgt. Wylie Grimm said that it's not unusual for police to need a couple of weeks to put a peace bond in place.

A tale of painful loss, Tompkin's story is also a case of painful irony.

"I told this guy that there are only two things I was afraid of -- a fire at my house and crazy men," she said. "And the combination of these two things is what did this to me."

Despite the loss of everything she owned and the fear of the man she believes did it to her, Tompkins is looking forward to the future.

"I'm taking things one day at a time," she said. "I'll be all right, but there are times that I feel totally overwhelmed about what I've lost and what I'll never see again."

The fire damage is estimated at more than $200,000 for the house and the personal belongings.

"The worst of it all was when the fire was still burning, and I sat on the picnic table to watch," she said. "You could tell where my record collection was and you could see flames shooting out from it."

Tompkins said she will never be able to replace much of what she lost -- including 20 years of photos and clothes she made herself.

"Sometimes when I'm tired and I want to go home to my very own bed, I realize that I can't," she said.

Tompkins bought the house in Pickerel Lake a year-and-a-half ago after selling property in Old Town. She was involved in an 18-year dispute with the City of Yellowknife over land ownership.

But the fire has made her realize the importance of friends.

"When you come right down to it, all that matters are your friends," she said. "It's too bad you have to lose everything to realize this."

Tompkins said her friends have helped her get through what she calls a terrible nightmare.

"Otherwise, the anger would totally eat me up," she said.

"I've been through shock and disbelief, but now I'm just angry -- angry at him for doing this to me."