As flames surrounded them, firefighters lifted fallen debris off an elderly woman trapped on an apartment balcony Saturday morning and carried her down a truck ladder to safety.
She was one of several such rescues made by Maple Ridge firefighters as they responded to an initial call, around 6 a.m., of an explosion at the Sunrise Apartments, 22292 – 122 Avenue.
More than 100 tenants are now without a home.
The city’s emergency response team and other community organizations are assisting them, as the apartment building is now uninhabitable.
Multiple calls to the fire hall followed the first one.
Flames were visible at the rear of the building when firefighters arrived, said chief Dane Spence.
Many tenants were able to escape through smoky hallways, but others were stranded on their balconies.
Firefighters used ladders to help three down from their third-storey apartments. They were able to transport an elderly man in a wheelchair down a stairwell.
Then they heard “a very faint call for help,” Spence said.
Drywall from the ceiling had fallen on a elderly woman, who lay trapped halfway on to her balcony.
“She had some mobility issues,” Spence said. “She really couldn’t assist the crews as they carried her down the ladder.”
Spence added that the operation was harrowing for firefighters – one complicated in that the older four-story building did not have sprinklers.
A municipal bylaw requires that all new apartment structures or replacement ones have them.
Firefighters from Pitt Meadows assisted those from Maple Ridge on Saturday.
They got everyone out safely.
TransLink provided a bus to keep tenants warm and dry at the scene.
A number of tenants were taken to hospital and treated for smoke inhalation and shock, according the Ridge Meadows RCMP.
All have been released, and none were seriously injured.
All occupants of the apartment building are temporarily without a home.
“Emergency social services have worked tirelessly to ensure all people affected have temporary accommodations,” said RCMP Cnst. Amanda Harnett.
A reception centre was set up at the Greg Moore Youth Centre to provide residents with a warm place to stay, meals and assistance.
The fire department is working with residents to provide access to safe areas of the building so that they can retrieve their possessions, according to the City of Maple Ridge.
Water and fire damage to the building is extensive, and it will not be habitable for some time.
The City of Maple Ridge Emergency Support Services (ESS) team was activated and provided short term shelter and aid for many of the displaced residents of the building. Many were able to find temporary accommodation with friends and neighbours in the community.
On the weekend, a Facebook page called “Sunrise Apartment Fire Donations and Support” was established by community volunteers. Anyone with items available for donation you can become part of this page and post a list and photos of the items available.
Many of the residents of Sunrise Apartments are attempting to locate new permanent residences and may take several days or weeks to secure permanent housing and a place to put donations.
The most sought after donation is cash, as some affected by the fire do not have insurance and will need money to ensure that they can relocate and replace lost items.
The Maple Ridge Christian Reform Church has set up a bank account at Westminster Savings for donations to the Sunrise Apartment Fire fund. The church will administer the funds to help residents of Sunrise Apartments.
All of the residents’ pets have been accounted for and are being sheltered or have been reunited with their owners. For additional assistance, contact the Facebook page administrators.
RCMP and the Maple Ridge fire department are investigating the cause of the fire.
Spence said it’s too soon to know.
Firefighters, in returning to the apartment building, retrieved more than 50 cats, a snake and a reptile of some kind from various suites.
“It was a close call for all,” he added.
The Canadian Disaster Animal Rescue Team has taken in most of them.