A massive fire in New Westminster this morning has virtually destroyed a three-storey apartment building.
Dozens of people who lived in the building at Ash Street and 4th Avenue were taken away from the scene on a city bus to be taken care of. However, fire crews and police are still doing head-counts to see if everyone got out safely.
“I won’t know until we can get in the building… it’ll be a slow process from here on in,” says Deputy Chief John Hatch.
Mario lived on the second floor, just doors down from where the fire apparently started. He heard yelling early this morning and opened his door to find very thick smoke in the hallway. The first thing he did was try to break into his neighbour’s apartment; she is in her 80s and deaf. Mario walked her down through the smoke; coughing and choking, they both made it out, along with 50 or 60 others.
Ted lives on the first floor; he is not insured. “Never thought this would happen… just start over, that’s all.”
A large portion of the building has completely collapsed; smoke billowed up over the New Westminster skyline.
New Westminster city councillor Chuck Puchmayr admits the building didn’t have sprinklers but says they weren’t mandatory.
“The older buildings don’t have to conform with sprinklers. So, we would call that ‘legal non-conforming,’ unless the owners did some major upgrades, then they would be required to bring the entire building up to code.”
Puchmyar says there are a lot of buildings all over BC like this one that don’t have sprinklers.
He adds the focus now is the dozens of people who used to live in the building and now don’t have a roof over their heads. “We’ll make sure that everybody is in shelter tonight and start working towards making sure that they get some permanent housing.”