More than 100 people are homeless after a three-alarm fire destroyed a four-storey apartment complex at 3526 Smith Ave. early Sunday morning.
Many of those residents attended a Monday morning meeting at the Accent Inn in Burnaby, where local emergency officials briefed them on what help they could offer.
According to Sue Walters, 60, who was living at the apartment for the past two years while she was on a waiting list for other accommodation, that meeting wasn't a lot of help.
"I lost everything and all they're offering us is an application form to get on a waiting list," said Walters. "I flipped out. I told them they're not here to help. I had to come outside and get some air."
Walters was traumatized by Sunday morning's fire.
"There was no time to get many of my possessions," said Walters. "All I could think of was 'I'm going to burn to death.'"
"I have no idea what the plan is from here. I don't know what to do, I don't know where to go, I don't even have a suitcase."
Walters said she didn't have insurance, but the week before the fire, she had gone to an agency to see if she could purchase some insurance. It was there that she was told that because of a previous fire at the building in 2009, she needed further documentation before she could buy insurance, but Sunday's fire occurred before she could get that information.
The residents are entitled to 72 hours of provincially-funded assistance, which ends Tuesday.
Walters' neighbour, Mike Fex, also lost everything, but he's trying to make the best of a bad situation.
"It sucks," said the tradesman who works with central vacuuming systems. "I lost everything, but there are a lot of people a lot worse off than me."
Fex said he remembers Sunday morning vividly, as flames and black smoke were coming up through the floorboards.
"The floor was burning underneath me and there was black smoke coming through so fast," said Fex. "I couldn't see more than 10 feet in front of me, and I knew I had to get out of there as quick as possible."
Fex, who stayed with friends on Sunday night after the fire, had to take the day off work Monday to attend the meeting and he expects to start looking for a new place to stay later this week.
Emergency workers gave each of the residents a $50 clothing voucher to use at Wal-Mart and Fex said that was where he was headed. Fex added he was lucky that he kept his tools in his work van, which didn't sustain any damage from the fire.
"I'll find a place," he said. "I have to start over, but that's the way it is."
As of Monday morning, there were no reports of any human lives lost in the fire. However, several pets were trapped in the building and are believed to have died in the fiery blaze that had Burnaby firefighters spending most of Sunday putting out hot spots in the wood-frame complex.
The fire occurred just after midnight on Sunday and Burnaby fire investigators are looking into how the fire started. The building, which is approximately 50 years old, did not have a sprinkler system.
According to Burnaby Fire Department acting assistant chief Rick Weir, there were 41 firefighters who fought the blaze and the department utilized seven engines, three ladder trucks, a rescue truck and a command unit.
Weir said at least 15 people were brought down by the ladder trucks.
"It was a huge fire for our department," said Weir. "We had to call people from home to work on the trucks."
Weir said the department had to deploy a truck on Monday to the apartment to make sure the smouldering building didn't catch on fire again.
"The third floor collapsed into the second floor and the second floor collapsed into the first floor," said Weir. "There has been no visible flames, but we'll keep on monitoring the situation."
Weir said Burnaby fire investigators and Burnaby RCMP investigators are looking into the cause of the fire.
Cpl. Dave Reid of the Burnaby RCMP told the Burnaby NOW on Tuesday morning that RCMP fire investigators are treating the fire as "suspicious in nature, simply due to the sheer severity of the fire."
"We don't know what caused this fire and the way we investigate this is we have to treat it as suspicious until it's proven not to be suspicious," said Reid.
Mike Burtwell has lived in the building for 10 months and said he was one of the first people to realize the building was on fire.
"I heard some crumbling, a crunching sound on the south side, and I only had enough time to grab my wallet and my cellphone," said Burtwell.
Burtwell said many of the residents had complained about the lack of heat in the building and to combat the winter chill, were using space heaters. But because the building was old, there weren't many electrical outlets in each unit, meaning their circuit breakers would often be overloaded.
Walters agreed, saying a lot of the wiring was old and the fire alarm that did go off on Sunday was very faint.
"I don't think the emergency lights came on either," said Walters.
The Salvation Army Metrotown at 6125 Nelson Ave. is coordinating donations of household items and cash from the public to assist the people impacted by the fire. Burnaby-Deer Lake MLA Kathy Corrigan is also accepting donations at her office at 150 - 5172 Kingsway.
Corrigan said she has talked with Liberals Shirley Bond, Rich Coleman and Moira Stilwell about fast-tracking any applications from residents to get replacement birth certificates and other documentation. Corrigan also said residents can use her office address as an interim mailing address.
The complex where the fire occurred has been in the news previously, as in March, 2009, Sudeshna Nath, 60, died of her injuries after another fire in the same building.
Sudeshna's 19-year-old son, Ravi, also suffered serious burns in that fire. An eight-year-old boy was also seriously hurt in the fire.
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