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Fire leaves 25 homeless in Burnaby

Residents of B.C. Housing complex say they saw it 'coming a long time ago’

Twenty-five low-income Burnaby residents lost their homes to a fire at a B.C. Housing complex this week.

The Burnaby Fire Department was called to Stratford Gardens, a multi-building housing complex at 6035 Pandora Street, at about 9:40 a.m. Wednesday.

A blaze had broken out in a two-storey building that houses about 12 apartments.

“There were flames and heavy smoke coming out of a ground floor suite when we arrived,” assistant fire Chief Barry Mawhinney told the NOW.

The fire department responded with eight trucks and 30 firefighters, but the building sustained significant damage before they extinguished the blaze.

“The fire suite was gutted,” Mawhinney said. “The fire came out the glass doors, so there was charring on the outside of the building and heavy, extensive smoke damage to the rest of the building. It’s not inhabitable right now because everything is contaminated.”

No one was taken to hospital, according to fire officials, but one firefighter sustained minor injuries.

Residents and their pets – three cats and one rabbit – were evacuated and gathered in a common room on site until they were bused to a hotel at about 4 p.m.

Lynn, a resident who didn’t want her last name used, said she had “stupidly” gone to the second floor when the fire broke out to see what was happening.

“When I was coming downstairs, it was all smoke,” she said, “so I couldn’t get back to my apartment, and I didn’t put my cats in the cases. I didn’t think it was a fire.”

Fortunately, she said, firefighters managed to corral her cats, Abigail and Scarlet, in their crates and carry them out of the burning building.

“The firemen were fantastic,” Lynn said.

Resident Ken Contois, meanwhile, said he left the building without even the shirt on his back.

He had been trying to get dressed in his bedroom, he said, when his wife pulled him out of the apartment.

“My wallet’s on the floor and I had no glasses or anything like that, and all I had on was my pajamas and no shirt,” Contois said. “It was raining. I was getting a free shower.”

The cause of the fire was still being investigated as of press time Thursday, according to fire officials, but Douglas Evans, who has lived at Stratford Gardens for 23 years, said the elderly man living in the suite where the fire broke out, had set off fire alarms before.

“We saw this coming a long time ago,” Evans said. “All the tenants were getting together and complaining about this gentleman being there uncared for. We were all trying to get word out to get this gentleman out of here because he needed assisted living.”

B.C. Housing officials and emergency social services personnel were at the housing complex Wednesday.

B.C. Housing regional operations manager Janet McAllister told tenants they’d be put up at a hotel and B.C. Housing representatives would meet with them individually in the coming days.

That’s small consolation to Evans, who is concerned he and most of his neighbours don’t have insurance to help them replace everything that’s been lost in the fire.

“I got my 23 years sobriety – no smoke, no drink – on Jan. 9, and this is my present, my building burning down, all my treasures, all up in smoke and a lot of other people’s,” he said.