At least 100 people are out of their homes and White Rock is under a boil water advisory after a massive three-alarm fire tore through an apartment building.
The fire appears to have begun at a construction site, but it quickly spread to neighbouring buildings.
Crews were dispatched around 4:15 am Sunday morning, and Surrey firefighters joined the fight, and it took crews well into the afternoon to douse hot spots.
It’s feared most of the building may have been rendered unlivable.
People have been forced out of their homes and the flames have damaged a three-storey apartment building and a commercial building at Buena Vista Road and Johnston Road.
White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin says the damage is significant.
“It’s a total loss, and that’s really a sad thing.”
Baldwin says the early support from the community towards the victims has been fantastic.
“Earlier this morning I was talking to a gentleman who was there and in his pyjamas and house coat and he left in such a hurry. He left his glasses behind, his hearing aids, and he didn’t know the phone number of his daughters. Luckily we were able to Google it and find his daughters. Now they’re here, and his granddaughters are here, and they’re taking him out to buy him some clothes.”
He says it’s his understanding the majority of the displaced residents do have condo insurance, though he adds there will likely be a few who don’t.
Surrey – White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg says with where and what time the blaze occurred, people are asking if this was an act of arson.
“The [Fire] Chief was asked that question and didn’t want to speculate as to what might’ve caused it, but there was a building immediately behind the complex and I talked to a couple of the residents who said they looked out the window and saw a spark and saw it just explode up to twenty feet in flames.”
“We could feel the heat. It was intense.”
Sara was one of the evacuees and was grateful to escape with her life.
“We were standing across the street and we could feel the heat. It was intense.”
“We just got out with our important things: Our lives. Everything else is lost, probably. It’s another challenge, that’s all. Something this traumatic has never happened to me before. I’m still in shock. But I have so many wonderful friends who have been calling me, people I haven’t talked to for five years, saying ‘do you need a place to stay’. The world is a wonderful place, and bad things happen like this, but the good things keeps you positive.”
Pierre DesLauriers owns and operates a business in the vicinity of where the blaze occurred.
Luckily, his business was spared.
But he knows several people weren’t as lucky.
“We know a lot of the people in that building, and we also know a lot of people that own the commercial in it, so it’s devastating for the people there. It’s really hard to watch. I just hope everyone’s okay and nobody got hurt.”
DesLauriers says it was remarkable the fire burned as long as it did, with crews working non-stop to try and put out the flames.
Donations pour in
With residents still reeling from this morning’s devastating fire, the effort to collect donations to help the victims is already under way. Deanna Whissell, whose store Vanilla Clothing was destroyed in the blaze, is coordinating the effort and says many people need the very basics.
“Any mens and ladies clothing, shoes. At this point, all we know is that the residents got out with basically just what is on their back, so a lot of people are here at Centennial Arena with pajamas on, slippers. So we’re just collecting anything at this point.”
Whissell says with the fire just hours old, the reaction from the community has been overwhelming.
“It was incredible, I mean I sent out one text message basically, and a Facebook, and its ridiculous how generous people are and want to help in anyway.”
She says cash donations are also being accepted, with plans to set up a trust account tomorrow.
She says organizers will be taking a truck around to pick up donations, or they can be dropped off at Vanilla Clothing’s Walnut Grove location.
Anyone wishing to donate can connect with them at 604-312-0636 or at 604-371-0071 to drop off at the Walnut Grove location.
The Semiahmoo Shoppers Drug Mart is also acting as a hub to collect pharmacy and toiletry needs.
Associate owner Bill Wong says Shoppers’ from all over Surrey are gathering supplies to distribute to the evacuees, and that his location will also use computer records to help fill prescriptions lost in the fire.
One resident tells us they don’t know if they have a home to go back to. Reports suggest at least two units in the building are completely destroyed. In addition, engineers with the City of White Rock have informed CKNW that a boil water advisory is now in effect due to contamination concerns. Acting director of municipal operations and engineering Bob Ambradar says it’s unknown what, if any contaminants, could be in the system.
“At this stage we don’t know right now. But the water levels in the reservoir have been drawn down to very low levels, so we need to actually test and determine that.”
He adds it’s mainly a precaution, but the advisory could last between one to two days.