A massive fire in Pitt Meadows has left at least eight families without a home after their townhouse complex was ravaged by flames.
Five units in the Harris Road Housing Co-op, located on 119B Avenue, were gutted when a fire quickly spread from what witnesses say was a carport in front of one of the units.
Firefighters were called to the Harris Road housing complex around 7:15 p.m.
Four units and vehicles were on fire at the time, said Pitt Meadows fire chief Don Jolley.
Members were able to salvage three of the eight units in the block where the fire occurred, he added.
In total, 17 people were displaced.
One person was taken to hospital with minor injuries, according to reports.
A pet cat died in the fire and other animals are missing, Jolley said.
Monday morning, the scene of gutted homes and charred vehicles was a stark reminder of what could have been much worse. Firefighters were still dousing the complex as hot spots flared up almost 15 hours after the initial blaze broke out.
Joanne Taylor was watching television after dinner Sunday when she first noticed a strong smell of smoke.
“I smelled something for a whole hour and thought somebody’s cooking something funny next door. I thought, ‘Gee, that’s a funny smell,’” said a distraught Taylor. “It must have been smoldering.”
Taylor then heard a neighbour’s alarm ringing and went to her window to see what was going on.
“I saw the flames licking at my window and I could hear the crackling in my kitchen and then somebody banged on my door and said run – so I just ran.”
She contemplated getting her keys and moving her car, parked across the street.
But her neighbour urged her to leave as quickly as possible.
Taylor jumped in a waiting neighbour’s truck and was driven a safe distance away from the fire.
Taylor, who has been living at the co-op for the past two years, left everything she owned behind, including her two pet cats. Both appear to have died in the fire. She said she’s just thankful nobody was injured in the blaze. Taylor said she has content insurance and it’s her understanding that all residents must have it in order to rent at the co-op.
Jolley said the fire investigation unit and the RCMP are going over the physical evidence at the scene in order to determine the exact cause of the blaze.
He couldn’t confirm the fire started in the carport in front of one of the units.
He said 19 Pitt Meadow volunteer firefighters and two chiefs were on scene, as well as getting backup from a dozen firefighters from Maple Ridge. He said it was almost 12 hours before the blaze was fully extinguished.
“It was a very hot and aggressive fire. There was a concern that it could spread to the other townhouses nearby,” said Jolley.
He added that the fire crews faced some challenges getting their trucks in position as the streets were crowded with a number of residents watching the fire.
He said the local Emergency Social Services was responding to help the victims of the blaze. Jolley said firefighters were able to salvage some of the residents belongings during the blaze, especially those families with kids who are set to head back to school on Tuesday.
Sarah Bloxham was at work when she received a call that there was a fire in the complex. She left work immediately to make sure her kids were OK.
“The kids were pretty scared,” she said. “The whole neighbourhood was scared, they had never seen flames reaching so high. Within about five minutes, three units were totally engulfed with flames.”
Bloxham thinks, as bad as the fire was, they are fortunate it wasn’t worse. She believes the quick response by the fire department, and the fact there were no strong winds at the time, prevented an even worse outcome.
“If the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, all of these houses across the street would have been done.”
Shannon Wilson lives in the row of townhouses that intersect the road where the fire started. She said it was a chaotic scene as people scrambled to move cars and make way for the fire department.
Wilson had just returned home and unloaded groceries from her car when her son ran it to warn her about the fire.
“It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes after I got home,” she said. “It was definitely scary.”
Bloxham milled about the street Monday morning, watching as fire crews continued to douse the complex with water more than 15 hours after the blaze broke out.
“It’s horrible, there are eight people here without a home. They have nothing.”
Emergency social services set up a reception centre at the co-op amenity building for displaced residents.
A Facebook page has started to collect donations for those affected by the fire.
Furniture, clothing and household items, such as towels, blankets and dishes are being sought, according to the site, and possibly pet supplies.
• For donation drop-offs, contact Maple Ridge Community Services (http://comservice.bc.ca/) or the Salvation Army (http://www.caringplace.ca/).