Fire in Maple Ridge leaves 7 homeless

Seven people have been left homeless by a fire that destroyed two homes in Maple Ridge early Thursday.

The fire started around 3:30 a.m. in the 11700-block of 223rd Street, near the downtown core.

Witnesses report the fire began near the carport of one house and moved quickly to engulf another house beside it.

Jessica Laxton, who lives in the second house, woke up to someone banging on her door and windows, shouting "Fire! Fire!"

Laxton jumped out of bed, grabbed her husband Bill Connell by his hand and ran outside barefoot, dressed in boxer shorts and a red house coat.

Her husband braved smoke and intense heat to rescue their dog Baby Girl as flames set ablaze surrounding trees and a hydro pole.

"Our dog kept running back in and hiding by her cage," said Laxton, as she stood on 223rd Street watching an excavator tear apart what's left of her home.

"There were blue sparks everywhere from the hydro lines. I was just screaming and screaming. We just lost everything we owned. Absolutely everything."

All Laxton and her husband managed to save were their wedding rings. The gifts they received from family at their wedding a year ago are destroyed.

"The teddy bear I had since I was one, the cradle my dad built for my little sister ... it's all gone," said Laxton.

The couple's cats – Jack and Suki – ran out of the house but are believed safe, lost somewhere in the neighbourhood.

"The firefighters worked really hard to save our home," said Connell.

The couple who lived above them were not so lucky.

Reece Dowdy and his wife lost one dog and two cats in the fire.

"Everything can be replaced but the only thing that pisses me off is I lost my animals and [my wife's] wedding ring," said Dowdy, while he stood in his pyjamas in a circle with his neighbours, outside the charred carcass of their home.

"My poor dog what am I going to do without her?

"Someone came along and just burned my life down."

The Maple Ridge Fire Department and Ridge Meadows RCMP are investigating the fire and treating it as "suspicious" but are not ready to call it an arson, just yet.

A few weeks ago, a car was set on fire inside a carport adjacent to the property where Thursday's blaze started.

"There is no reason at this point to link the two but we are looking into that possibility," said fire chief Peter Grootendorst.

The fire department tore down both homes on Thursday because fire was still smouldering in the debris.

"It was too dangerous to send the firefighters in there. So we are going to have an excavator come down and tear it apart to extinguish it," Grootendorst explained.

He called the occupants of both homes "lucky." Some of them did not have working smoke detectors.

"That certainly is a dangerous situation to be in,"  Grootendorst added.

"They are very, very fortunate. One man woke up when he smelled smoke. Usually that doesn't happen, usually it's too late."

None of the tenants have renter's insurance. The district's emergency social service will house them for a few days in hotels. They've also been given vouchers for food and clothing.

• Call Ridge Meadows RCMP at 604-463-6251 if you have any information about the fire. To remain anonymous call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or leave a tip online at CrimeStoppers will pay a reward of up to $2,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


• If you would like to donate house hold goods to the families, you can drop donations off at any Salvation Army in Metro Vancouver. Monetary donations can be dropped off or mailed to the Salvation Army's Caring Place, 22188 Lougheed Hwy, Maple Ridge , B.C. V2X 2S8. Info: Barb Morgan, District of Maple Ridge, 604-463-5221.


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