Two years ago, White Rock residents Kenya Anderson and her husband Michael Fry were homeless in the aftermath of the fire that gutted their top-floor condo in the Ocean Ridge complex at Five Corners.
Like nearly 100 other residents who lost their homes in the early morning hours of May 15, 2016, they were facing massive uncertainties after the fire – which spread from a blaze at a neighbouring building site – had thrust them onto the street with only the clothes on their backs, their pets and what few key possessions they could grab.
Today, they’re comfortably back at home in the rebuilt development, where only changes in ground-floor retail businesses give any hint of the disruption from the dramatic conflagration, determined to be the result of arson.
White Rock RCMP Sgt. Joel Glen confirmed Wednesday that the case is “still very much an active investigation.”
“We’re fully engaged in it,” he told Peace Arch News.
Glen said the sheer size of the fire – both the damage and the number of people affected – has “absolutely” contributed to the investigation’s timeline.
“There’s forensics that are involved, analysis of statements and any video that was obtained… All that stuff is being looked into,” he said.
“White Rock is not a huge detachment,” Glen added. “We’ve actually called in outside resources to help us with it as well.”
Glen said police in White Rock and Surrey are also continuing efforts to determine if there are any connections between the Five Corners blaze and other fire incidents that occurred that same day. He confirmed those incidents include a fire that was reported just before noon on Semiahmoo First Nation land.
Surrey RCMP had said at the time that no link had been identified between the two crimes, and that one man, identified at the time as James Adrian Dyer, had been charged in connection with the blaze on SFN land – in which “some guy lit fire to some pallets on a basketball court.”
According to court records, Dyer was handed a nine-month conditional sentence in Surrey Provincial Court this past February, as well as 12 months probation and a DNA order, in connection with a May 15, 2016 “mischief to property over $5,000” incident in Surrey. A stay of proceedings was entered on a charge of “arson damaging property.”
“I can’t say that they’re linked,” Glen said. “We’ve spoken to Surrey investigators.”
Glen would not speculate on when the Five Corners arson investigation might be concluded.
In addition to the suspicious cause, controversy concerning water capacity to fight the fire had been raised by residents, including the revelation in a freedom-of-information request that Peace Arch Hospital suffered a water shortage as a result that day.
Thursday, city communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi said that while lessons can be learned from all significant incidents of this kind, “there has not been a direct change to city policies.”
“In the initial stages this was an extremely fast-paced and dynamic incident and though there was significant property damage there was no loss of life,” she said in an email. “This can be attributed to the response of residents and the initial actions of fire and police crews on scene.”
Farrokhi noted, however, that at the time of the Five Corners fire, the city had the same water-storage capacity as in decades past, but the city has since built an additional reservoir.
“Our storage capacity is well positioned to handle the city’s fire-service needs with total available storage that is 1.55 million litres more than when the city fought that fire in 2016.”
Meanwhile, Anderson said that while Fry is still on the mend from recent heart surgery, and while Pooky passed away a year ago at the grand old age of 17, their overwhelming emotion is gladness to be back.
“It’s just a huge sigh of relief to be back at Five Corners,” she said, adding that the couple had moved to a few temporary homes in the interim while the rebuild was underway.
They finally moved back on Feb. 23 – in the middle of a snowstorm – she said, as homeowners took turns moving in, three per day, after occupancy was greenlit on Feb. 19.
“Our move was a bit of a nightmare because of the snowfall, but that was nothing to do with the building,” she said. “I remember taking Louie for a walk in the snow and being so happy – I felt just like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Anderson said that, to her knowledge, “every homeowner who wanted to come back is back, but none of the renters – it wouldn’t have made sense for them to wait. Everybody’s happy to be back.”
Some owners have since sold their units or are selling as the value of the properties has increased, she said, and some have been rented.
“Two women in the building have passed away since the fire. One lady had moved to assisted living by the time her place had been reconstructed, and decided to go on living there.”
While Anderson and Fry had been critical of the city’s response in the immediate aftermath of the fire – alleging unpreparedness for the emergency and claiming that the city had actively discouraged people from donating goods to fire victims, with an early message that all residents’ needs had been taken care of – Anderson said they want to let that go.
“Looking back, nothing matters now. I don’t want to go there,” she said.
However, she would advise anyone to take out home insurance – having it had been crucial in helping herself and Fry get through the last two years, she said.
“We all spend well over $1,000 per year for our vehicle insurance, yet we don’t always look at our home insurance, as an owner or renter. It starts around $400 per year – and that’s to replace everything you own and put your family up in an emergency.
“Pretty good deal, if you ask me. And, yes, we’ve increased our policy. I hope none of us ever need it again.”