Residents evacuated by bus in White Rock blaze
Two people were taken to hospital Thursday after an early-morning fire broke out in a White Rock apartment building, causing extensive damage.
Residents of the Vinewood – an older, three-storey wood-frame complex in the 14900-block of Vine Avenue – were alerted to trouble around 6:25 a.m., as alarms sounded and smoke filled the hallways.
Second-floor resident Neil Midgley said he heard a bang, then the sound of breaking glass, before the alarms went off.
"There was like a really loud explosion," he said, noting his first thought was that a nearby transformer had blown.
He quickly realized it was much more.
"I went out on my balcony, looked down and the apartment one below and over, the flames were as high as the building.
"I got my clothes, then the alarm bells went off."
Midgley said he had to stoop to avoid the smoke that quickly filled his suite.
Byron Robertson, who lives in a second-floor unit on the building's east side, said it was the third time alarms have gone off in the building in the past month. The first two times were false, and he initially believed that would be the case again – until he heard neighbours banging on doors and people yelling "fire!"
Curious residents who walked around the outside of the building to see exactly what was going on were quickly told to leave, he said.
According to neighbours, fire and ambulance crews were on the scene within five minutes. Two women – including one estimated to be in her 70s, who lived in the south-facing, first-floor unit where the fire started – were taken to hospital. Both were treated in hospital and released.
Fire Chief Phil Lemire said at the scene that crews arrived to find one unit "fully involved." They were able to contain the fire to the one suite, but other units did sustain damage.
"There was some extension up the back, we're still assessing how far that goes," he said.
Lemire confirmed all residents of the 59 units were evacuated. Many were initially taken in at a neighbouring apartment complex; TransLink buses arrived to provide temporary shelter and transportation to Centennial Arena for further emergency assistance.
Lemire said later Thursday afternoon that residents would not be able to return to their homes for at least 48 hours.
Midgley was not optimistic he would be allowed back "anytime soon."
While exact cause of the fire is unclear, Lemire said early indications are it is not suspicious. He confirmed that while the building had smoke alarms, it did not have a sprinkler system.