A hallway fire in a Port Hardy apartment building that ousted dozens of people from their homes late Sunday is considered suspicious, say RCMP, and an investigation is ongoing.
The fire started in the second floor hallway of Town Park Apartments C-block at around 11:30 p.m on Jan. 17. It quickly engulfed the hallway, pumping heat and smoke through the building. A mattress was found on fire in the hallway, but officials would not confirm whether it was intentionally set alight.
Andrew Dawson lives on the second floor with his wife and uncle. Earlier that night he says someone pulled the fire alarm, and shortly after the building manager sorted that out, the smoke detector went off.
“I usually don’t react because they’re so sensitive, they go off all the time. You open your shower and steam will set it off,” he said. But that night for some reason he went to check, and found an actual fire.
Dawson ran down the hallway banging on doors, yelling for people to get out. Outside, he found his wife, uncle and uncle’s girlfriend at the window trying to climb down with blankets. Dawson could see it billowing out the neighbour’s window, who had left their hallway door open.
“I started screaming, jump, I’ll catch you just jump, I was pleading,” he said. They dropped while he tried to break their fall.
A handful of other residents jumped out of second floor windows when they found the hallway exit blocked by smoke, including Dawson’s sister, who broke her leg.
A dog, Dex, also broke its forepaw when he was thrown out of the building.
It could be months before residents are allowed back inside. Parallel 50 Realty and Property Management is working with insurance adjusters to assess the damage to the 15 suites, but it won’t be quick.
“You’ve got a building that just had extensive smoke damage. You have to make sure it’s safe before we can even determine how much work needs to be done,” said Parallel 50 CEO Dale Mailman.
Emergency Support Services (ESS) was called in the early hours of Jan. 18, to coordinate housing the tenants in the interim. They have 25 people in hotels, three are in hospital, and a few others had family or friends to stay with.
The automatic 72-hour ESS support period has already been extended for another three days. After that, no one can say yet what will happen, but Port Hardy ESS volunteer Susan Bjarnason said no one will be left stranded.
Port Hardy Fire Rescue crews doused the fire quickly. It was short-lived due to lack of fuel and oxygen in the hall, but was hot and intense with smoke. Crews were on scene for over three hours ventilating and securing the building. All six Port Hardy fire trucks were on site with over 30 firefighters.
A truck with five crew from Port McNeill also came as back up. BC Ambulance Services, Port Hardy RCMP and BC Hydro crews were all on scene as well.
Anyone has knowledge of this incident or who is responsible, is asked to contact the Port Hardy RCMP at 250-949-6335. If you wish to remain anonymous, please call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or visit their web site at www.crimestoppers.ca.
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