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Inferno engulfs Maple Ridge neighbourhood

A fire which started in a home under construction in east Maple Ridge Wednesday afternoon quickly spread to destroy three other houses and badly damage another.

The fire broke out at about 3:45 p.m. near 227th Street and 136A Avenue in Formosa Plateau, a new neighbourhood in Silver Valley in northeast Maple Ridge.

The fire department believes the blaze started in a house where builders were working but quickly spread to an occupied house and three others that were under construction.

A construction crew framing several houses down first noticed smoke billowing out of a home, where a deck was being tarred.

By the time they retrieved a few of their tools, three houses were already ablaze.

"It went so fast. It was just incredible," said Ross Davies, who watched the fire from 224th Street and 136th Avenue. The plume of smoke could be seen from Pitt Meadows. The tower of flames could also be seen from as far away as Vancouver, at one point.

Three fire halls were called to battle the blaze, which quickly turned the half-million dollars houses into piles of smoking, charred rubble. Firefighters kept the fire from spreading up the mountain and sprayed water on homes which were occupied.

Barb Leclerc and her daughters ran out to join a large crowd watching the fire after they heard sirens.

"My heart's thumping," said Leclerc, as she watched flames quickly swallow the homes.

"It's pretty scary."

Workers on site had minutes to escape. Leclerc saw a man trying to salvage a ladder and tools. Other workers, standing in the heat of the inferno, lamented about the expensive tools that were melting inside.

"Luckily, no one lives in these houses, they just built them," said Vicki, Leclerc's daughter, who was clicking photographs of the destruction.

A family recently moved into a house that sit two homes away from a heap of hot ash.

"When a wood frame building is at the framing stage, it is extremely vulnerable to fire as the drywall and fire sprinkler systems have not yet been installed," said assistant fire chief Howard Exner.

"Early indications are that the fire was well advanced prior to fire department notification.

The fire is now under control and the crews are extinguishing hot spots and it is too early in the process to speak to the cause and origin of the fire."

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