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Tenants out for Christmas after fire in Maple Ridge
Bylaw, police and the fire department are closely watching a house in west Maple Ridge which was the scene of two fires in a span of three days this week.
The first fire started Friday around 11:50 a.m. on a mattress inside the house at 21719 117th Avenue, off 218th Street and left four tenants homeless just before Christmas.
Residents attempted to douse the flames with pots of water but were unable to extinguish the fire.
The upper floor of the duplex was damaged by smoke while the area below was damaged by water. Half the duplex was deemed unsafe as a result.
The district's emergency social services program provided the tenants with vouchers and connected them with staff at the Salvation Army shelter.
But three days later, around 8:30 a.m. on Boxing Day, a trailer parked in the driveway went up in smoke.
All that remains of the trailer is a charred shell and the crispy remnants of piles of clothes.
The cause of both fires remains under investigation.
"It is a concern for us," said Maple Ridge fire chief Dane Spence.
"The property is being visited by police. The bylaws and building department are involved."
The duplex is owned by Jagdev Singh 'Jack' Athwal. Following the mattress fire, the fire department found there were no smoke detectors inside the house, an unsafe furnace and holes in walls.
Staff from the District of Maple Ridge cut power off to half the duplex because of the unsafe conditions, said Spence.
A stop work order was also issued due to construction being done inside the house without proper permits or inspections.
"The fire department doesn't take lightly the requirement to displace residents so close to Christmas. However, had they continued to live there, the potential repercussions could have been much worse," Spence added.
According to a report to Maple Ridge council, Athwal owns more than 30 rental units in municipality.
He had his business license revoked by the district in 2009 after repeated problems with one property – the notorious Northumberland Court townhomes on Fraser Street.
The townhouse complex was eventually sold to a Vancouver developer and finally torn down earlier this year.
"There was no fire to the house at all. No damage," Athwal said when contacted. "I guess the guy was smoking so it was the mattress that burned. It's a holiday and they cut the power off and I am not allowing anybody to go inside until the city OKs everything."
Neighbours though are growing increasingly concerned about the property and have made repeatedly complaints about it to police, as well as the municipality.
"We are a really nice neighbourhood but now everybody is on edge," said a woman who lives nearby.
"We really hope the district will do something about it."
Maple Ridge Ernie Daykin assures neighbours the district is "on top of things."
"We've learned from the last time," said Daykin, referring to the district's dealings with Athwal and Northumberland Court.
"I don't have any qualms about being as aggressive as we need to be. Obviously [the landlord's] practices have not changed."
Busy long weekend
A Christmas day wind storm and four fires kept the Maple Ridge Fire Department on its toes over the long weekend.
The fire department responded to 37 calls from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day.
Besides two fires at a house on 117th Avenue, crews were also called to extinguish a fire that started in the bush of Lougheed Highway near 232nd Street. An illegal housing structure constructed in a thickly wooded area off the highway was destroyed.
On Dec. 24, around 9:30 p.m., a house in the 27700 block of 104th Avenue in Whonnock was damaged in a fire that began in a chimney but quickly spread to the roof.