SURREY — Firefighters say nobody was hurt in a massive apartment fire late Saturday night in Surrey but about 100 people were forced from their homes.
The fire happened at the Celeste apartment building at 8183 121A St.
Now freelance photographer Shane MacKichan said fire crews arrived at 10:45 p.m. Saturday and the blaze was quickly upgraded to a four-alarm fire, bringing almost 40 firefighters to the scene.
Surrey Fire Department told Global BC they have determined the fire began on a balcony on the second floor of the four-storey, 77-unit building.
Some residents said they were told a group of partiers on the second floor were using a barbecue and it somehow ignited the outside deck.
But Surrey’s assistant fire chief Brian Woznikoski by late Sunday said the fire is not suspicious and that a fire investigator had ruled out a barbecue as a possible cause.
“He is going to continue investigating. It appears it started on the exterior on a balcony,” said Woznikoski. “We are narrowing it down.”
“The damage is extreme to the fourth floor of the building,” he said.
Many of the displaced residents have young children. The building also has a large number of senior citizens.
“The whole roof has caved in,” said Kory Campbell, 34, who lived on the top floor with his wife and five-month-old baby. “Everything is gone and there is a lot of smoke and water damage,” he said. “We have lost everything, the shower gifts, pictures, it is all gone.”
Campbell, who did not have insurance, said many of the residents have cats or dogs and some have yet to find their pets.
“I heard a couple of animals died,” he said as he met with other displaced residents who were staying at the Newton Senior’s Centre until they could find other accommodation.
One of his neighbours was in Maple Ridge for the night and did not know whether his cat survived the intense heat and smoke. “My buddy was hysterical over his cat,” he said.
Once he was able to get his family out safely, Campbell said he could watch from the road as the fire moved swiftly from floor to floor. “They might have to tear the building down,” he said sadly of the four-floor building.
At least 101 residents are now desperate to find accommodation, with many having left the building with nothing but the clothes on their back.
Surrey Fire Capt. Wes Eaton said they were continuing to try lost pets on Sunday. “We brought out a cat and a rabbit and a few are still missing,” he said. “There were no injuries to people that we know of,” he added.
David Cowie, the president of the strata council in the building beside the Celeste, said they had feared the fire would jump to their complex. “It was terrifying for the people who live on that one side of the building.,” he said. “They thought it was going to start up in our building.”
He said Surrey RCMP moved quickly in helping to evacuate his building. “The flames were 15 to 20 feet high,” he said.
As concern about his building catching fire grew, Cowie said RCMP were forced to break down the doors of anyone who did not answer their emergency call. He estimates about 40 doors were broken by police as they worked to get everyone out of his building.
”It was a major concern to get everyone out of our building,” he said.
Surrey councillor Bruce Hayne said 101 people from the building registered at the emergency centre at the Newton Senior’s Centre. He said funding from the provincial emergency program will pay for short term hotel rooms for those who need them.
“The residents have been traumatized by this. It’s a very trying and traumatic event for everyone, and a lot of these people are seniors,” said Hayne.
“It’s very fortunate that everyone got out unhurt and that there were no injuries to the fire service.”
The Now, with files from John Colebourne (Vancouver Sun)