Junyi Liu moved to the Valley eight years ago. Immediately, something about Comox felt like home to him, so he decided to stay.
“The most beautiful part is actually the people here. Every time I came back from China, people would say, ‘Welcome home.’ It makes me feel very good,” he told the Comox Valley Record.
He devoted his life’s savings to buying the Esso gas station along with his cousin. For nearly a decade, he was always busy working and enjoyed the life he’d built for himself here.
Then, in a twist of fate, everything changed.
“It was a quiet evening, and there were not many customers,” he recalled. “I was the only one there when it happened.”
On May 20, a woman crashed into one of the station’s gas pumps, creating a huge fiery blaze. “At that moment, I just pressed all the emergency buttons, grabbed the extinguisher, and ran outside.”
He quickly realized the fire extinguisher would not be enough and dived through the flames for the driver’s seat door to get the woman out of the burning car.
“Everything I did was just automatic. I didn’t think about anything. It went so fast.”
He got her and her small dog in the passenger seat to safety, saving her life. Although he returned with the fire extinguisher, the flames were beyond hope of being put out without a fire crew.
“It was a very spectacular fire,” Fire Chief Gord Schreiner also told the Record. He and his crews battled the flames for over three hours before they finally went out, revealing the damage.
The building was toast. As was the Korean restaurant next door – but everyone was alive.
“I didn’t realize the efforts that he had done until after we had seen some videos of him pulling out the woman. It was quite remarkable, said Schreiner.
Last week, Lui was awarded the Citizen Service Award for his heroic actions.
“It’s very rare (that we give this award),” says Schreiner. “In this particular case, he saved a life, which is something that the fire department couldn’t do because we could not be there that fast.”
Extremely humble in his response, Liu was far from expecting the recognition.
“That was a big surprise,” admits Liu. “I didn’t think that I did something big. I think anyone else who would have been there would have done the same thing as I did.”
While he feels he couldn’t have done anything else, the repercussions of that day are still affecting Lui.
He lost his livelihood, and although he had insurance, it won’t cover the extent of the damages – meaning Lui likely won’t get his Esso back up and running.
“It’s hard to say it and how I feel right now,” says Liu. “I was very busy when I was working there. I almost work every day, but now I have nothing to do.”
He loves his home here in Comox, but losing his business also busted his shot at permanent residency. He’ll have to restart his immigration process, but he says he’ll do what it takes.
“I like it here. If I have the chance to live here, I would like to dedicate myself to this community.”
While he’s facing challenges right now, he’s proven the strength of his character, meeting them with gentle optimism. He has no plans to leave the Valley anytime soon.