A massive fire in White Rock’s Five Corners neighbourhood has left more than 100 residents homeless after their condo building sustained significant damage Sunday morning.
Residents were evacuated from the four-storey 15210 Pacific Ave. building – also home to a dozen ground-level businesses – around 5:30 a.m., after a fire broke out at an adjacent under-construction condominium complex.
Michael Kalynn, who lives in a ground-floor suite facing the construction site, told Peace Arch News outside the Centennial Arena evacuation centre that his wife woke him up around 4:30 a.m. and told him she smelled something burning.
“We went outside and we could see something behind the construction site was smoldering,” Kalynn said. “All of a sudden it spread to the building (under construction), and 20 minutes after that, the building was engulfed.”
Kalynn said large embers began landing on the roof of his building, and within minutes police were banging on residents’ doors.
Residents were picked up by two Coast Mountain buses and taken to Centennial Arena, where city staff and White Rock RCMP victim services were on hand to help evacuees. Many residents arrived in their pajamas, with little else in the way of belongings; some had pets in tow, others said their pets did not make it out of the building.
One elderly couple arrived in an airport bus, having just returned from Hawaii. They were told their home was gone, their cars destroyed.
As another couple left the burning building, the husband – in his 70s – tripped over a fire hose, broke his leg and sustained a laceration on his face. A friend, who was caring for the couple’s dog, told PAN the man underwent surgery at Peace Arch Hospital Sunday afternoon.
There were no other injuries confirmed.
By mid-afternoon, it became apparent the residences could not be salvaged. Many of the evacuees found alternate temporary housing with family or friends. An insurance representative on hand to help facilitate claims told the evacuees it could be at least 18 months to two years before their homes would be rebuilt.
On Monday, the evacuees returned to Centennial Arena for an update from fire officials on the status of the building.
Mayor Wayne Baldwin told PAN Monday afternoon the residents were told the top floor of the building was severely damaged, with primarily water da
mage on the other floors. Once the fire was fully extinguished, Baldwin said, fire crews began entering the units one at a time to recover small items, such as wallets and passports.
“It’s still dangerous in there, so they can’t allow people to go in themselves,” Baldwin said. “We’ll be handing over the building to the insurer, and
they’ll be the ones who are controlling it thereafter.”
The mayor said engineers will determine whether the building can be repaired, or whether it will need to be completely rebuilt.
Neighbouring Star of the Sea Hall is closed indefinitely after sustaining water, smoke and heat damage, as well as broken windows and doors, according to parish staff. While there was no damage to the church itself, as of Tuesday morning it was also closed while crews continued to secure the area. Parish staff are working to find alternate locations for the hall’s scheduled events, including daycare services.
Cause of the fire has yet to be determined, Baldwin said, describing the blaze as “stubborn” and noting that wind hindered firefighting efforts.
Several fire trucks were called in from neighbouring Surrey while crews fought to get the blaze under control. The efforts put a significant strain on White Rock’s water supply, forcing crews to connect to Surrey’s water lines for more than six hours, and prompting a citywide boil-water advisory (see sidebar).
As fire crews worked to extinguish the blaze Sunday, large crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the damage.
Moe Toufic, who owns Pacific Barber Shop, stood half a block away, watching as firefighters tried to save his seven-year-old business’s building.
Toufic said he had no idea about the fire prior to arriving to start his shift.
“I just came here at 10 to work, and I see this,” h
e told PAN.
Black smoke was “just billowing” from the scene, according to former mayor Catherine Ferguson, who said she heard sirens rushing to the scene shortly after 5:30 a.m.
“You can see the flames coming right out of the apartment building at Five Corners, where the retail shops are,” Ferguson said, noting the smoke was so thick, she couldn’t see to the end of the street. “It’s just tragic.”
Later that morning, witness Helen Verhaaf said road access to the area was completely blocked off by fire and police crews, and that residents had been evacuated by bus.
Verhaaf said the smoke was so thick in the area that she “could taste it… You can’t even see more than a few feet in front of you.
“The smoke has literally enveloped the city up to the mall.”
While offers of clothes, blankets and other donations began coming in shortly after news of the fire broke, city staff told PAN they would not be collecting items at this time.
Independent efforts to raise money for the fire victims and businessowners online and throughout the community (see top) have been launched.