Charred lumber and burned, cracked concrete foundations are all that is left of four new houses that burned to the ground Wednesday.
Fire ripped through the homes at 227th Street and 136A Avenue in Formosa Plateau, a new neighbourhood in Silver Valley in northeast Maple Ridge.
The call came in at 3:49 p.m., when two homes were already on fire, said Maple Ridge fire chief Howard Exner.
Flames spread quickly to two other houses under construction and tore off the roof and side of a fifth house that was occupied at 22731 – 136A Ave.
By the time firefighters arrived 10 minutes later, it was well underway. Exner added the fire was so hot, he had to park his truck a block away.
“It went up fast. It was raging,” one worker on site said Thursday.
Firefighters kept the fire from spreading up the mountain and sprayed water on occupied homes.
There were no injuries, although one firefighter had to be treated for heat exhaustion.
The heat even melted a plastic outhouse and charred a tree on the other side of the road.
Exner said the department is still trying to figure out what started the blaze. The homes were just about at the lockup stage, with roofs and windows in, but no siding or drywall.
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 tower of flames could also be seen from Vancouver, at one point.
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.
Exner said three trucks poured 5,000 gallons of water a minute on to the fire. A potential lack of water pressure from the hydrants was a concern. Public works crews were at the scene Thursday, checking on water line capacity.
Nine trucks and 68 firefighters fought the blaze until about 9:30 p.m. and a fire watch was kept on over night.
“We poured lots of water on this.”
– with files from Monisha Martins