Six months after a devastating White Rock fire left close to 100 residents homeless, city officials say the cost of needing Surrey water and fire crews to help fight it was $107,000.
White Rock fire Chief Phil Lemire said in an interview Tuesday morning that just $2,604 of the bill – “nothing outrageous” – was for the additional water.
Lemire said he received the bill in July.
In a conference call Tuesday with Peace Arch News and city communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi, Lemire said he made the request for mutual aid shortly after arriving at the fire scene on May 15. It resulted in Surrey fire crews lending assistance for 17 of the “33 or 38 hours” that White Rock firefighters spent battling the blaze.
The fire – later determined to have been intentionally set – broke out at the Ocean Ridge condominium complex, in the city’s Five Corners district, just after 5 a.m. Residents of the building’s 60 residential units were evacuated; ground-floor businesses and the Star of the Sea Hall were impacted; and a citywide boil-water advisory was instituted, remaining in place for three days.
The advisory was put in place as the city’s water reserves were depleted by the firefighting efforts, which city manager Dan Bottrill said days later used more than 400 litres of water per second for six hours straight. The city’s water system, he told PAN at the time, was built for “more like 212 litres per second, for a peak period of about 2.6 hours.”
Water pressure dropped throughout the city – including at Peace Arch Hospital, which city emails obtained by a resident through a freedom-of-information request confirm lost flow to its three upper floors – within a few hours, and White Rock had to tap into Surrey’s water supply via two connections on 16 Avenue.
The day’s water shortage has been the source of much criticism in the months since, with many questioning the city’s capacity to fight such a blaze.
Farrokhi said in the interview that ongoing work on the city’s water utility will boost that capacity by 1.55 million litres by early February; providing in total enough for a population of “roughly 30,000 people.”
Lemire noted that the expansion efforts, including construction of a reservoir on Oxford Street, were underway prior to the fire. There have been no specific requests to adjust infrastructure as a result of the fire, he said.
Lemire described the $107,000 bill for mutual aid as a reasonable one, given the situation.
“When you look at the amount of resources we utilized, that’s the intent of mutual aid,” he said.
“This was probably the largest fire in the city’s history, and you had a very large footprint. We were dealing with three separate buildings. When you have a fire of this magnitude that starts on two different ends of a building this size, that takes resources.
“As far as how it was dealt with and being able to get resources, those pieces, they worked.”
Lemire said he could not comment on certain aspects of the fire, due to the ongoing police investigation.
Asked why the bill was not shared with the public earlier, Farrokhi said the police investigation prevented the city from disclosing information.
Lead investigator, White Rock RCMP Cpl. Michelle Thiessen, told PAN Tuesday that she, too, has little information that she can share publicly, including if any suspects have been identified.
She did say that two investigators are working on the file, leads are being followed and “the investigation is proceeding.”
“It’s a priority, obviously,” Thiessen said. “There’s so many victims from the fire, we want to get it solved as quickly as possible.
“That being said, these types of investigations take time. We’re going to take our time and do it properly.”
In the meantime, one of the residents who was displaced by the fire said she learned Monday that city permits needed to start the rebuild on the Ocean Ridge have been approved. (However, after press deadline Tuesday, Farrokhi told PAN that the Ocean Ridge permit had not yet been issued.)
Hours before receiving the news Monday, Sandi Dick told PAN the wait was frustrating. She said the residents were told in September that the rebuild, once underway, would take 287 days.
“We were told there would be a roof on it by the end of September. There’s not even a fourth floor on it,” Dick said.