An event to celebrate the outpouring of community support seen during and in the weeks since the May 15 fire in White Rock drew more than 300 to the Star of the Sea Hall parking lot Wednesday.
As hotdogs and hamburgers were served mere metres from the charred Ocean Ridge condominium complex, first responders, displaced residents, politicians and many who have donated time, items or funds to help the victims mingled.
“Sometimes bad things happen to good people and good communities,” Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg told the crowd. “We’re here to thank each other, love each other.”
Nearly 100 residents were displaced by the fire, which broke out around 5 a.m. in the Five Corners district at an under-construction condominium complex immediately south of the Ocean Ridge.
Damage to the four-storey Ocean Ridge was extensive. Ten ground-level businesses were also displaced by the fire.
As duo Note Worthy performed from the stage Wednesday – kicking off the event with Bridge Over Troubled Waters – firefighter Evan Bird told Peace Arch News that the blaze was the worst he’d experienced in his 12-year career. It went from “a little fire in the back to the whole thing engulfed” within minutes.
“It’s crazy that no one actually died,” he said.
Bird described how the community rallied as uplifting.
“As bad as this was, seeing the community come together like this, it blows me away.”
Fire victim Frances Morris agreed.
“Every single person everywhere has been amazing to me,” Morris said, estimating she and her son lost 90 per cent of their belongings in the fire.
Morris told PAN she is more concerned about her neighbours’ losses than her own.
“I’ve been OK. For us, it’s just stuff. There’s so many people worse off than us.”
It’s unclear how many of the displaced residents turned out Wednesday. Some have been too traumatized to return to the area, and one who attended told PAN it was difficult to be so close to the damage.
Strata vice-president Michael Fry – who told PAN last month that he and others felt let down in the weeks after the fire by the response from city hall – stood before the crowd to give thanks to first responders and donors on behalf of all victims.
“The whole community was behind all the people,” he said.
Mayor Wayne Baldwin described the fire as “an unthinkable act of arson” that had a profound effect on the community.
Speaking to the crowd, he noted it required “300 per cent” of the city’s water capacity to fight, and commended both first responders and city workers for their efforts that day.
He also thanked the City of Surrey for its contributions, which included firefighters and access to “never-before-used” cross connections to its water supply.
Baldwin estimated that fundraising in the weeks since – including that spearheaded by displaced business owner Laura Cornale and a collection organized by the Peninsula Pastors Network – means “something in the order of $120,000 will be distributed to survivors of this fire.”