As firefighters worked into the dawn to finish off the smouldering remains of a blaze that killed three people in Victoria early Saturday, a lone firefighter walked away from the scene, his face scrunched with tears. Others, covered in soot and sweat, began to peel off their jackets, visibly exhausted.
Fire engulfed the multiple-unit rental home on Johnson Street at about 4 a.m. and claimed the lives of one man and two women.
The cause of the fire and the names of the deceased have not been released.
John Muller left the party at the house about 3:30 a.m. Saturday after helping to clean up.
“We only found out what happened this morning,” he said at his Fairfield home, where a group of friends was gathering to share information, hugs and tea.
“We’re not even sure who died.”
Victoria Fire Department Battalion Chief Paul Kowalyk said it is believed the fire started in a couch on the front porch. The porch and side of the house had extensive damage.
“We’ve heard reports that they had a fire in that couch earlier in the evening and they didn’t call us for it,” Kowalyk said.
According to one of the party-goers, the fire was extinguished, he said. “Obviously, it never got put out properly.”
He said the fire would have travelled up the stairway “like a chimney,” making it difficult for anyone upstairs to get out.
“Fire just looks for places to go.”
In an interview with the Times Colonist, the mother of one of the women who died in the blaze said that whoever might have caused the couch fire should not blame themselves for what happened.
“It’s not their fault,” she said. “You do what you think is right at the time, you’re in the middle of a party and everything’s happy.”
She said her daughter was 20, and the man who died was her boyfriend and in his mid-20s. The pair met at Royal Roads University, she said, and both had a lot of friends.
“There’s a lot of hurting kids out there.”
A service will be arranged to celebrate their lives, the mother said.
“They were amazing kids,” she said. “They knew everything about plants and forests and ecology and organics and nutrition, and they had great potential.
“They were very, very happy. They loved each other.”
A Facebook invitation to the party at 1320 Johnson St. called it an Aphrodisiac Love and Appreciation event. About 40 people said they would attend the event, although it’s unknown how many attended or were in the home at the time of the fire.
At least two of the tenants were students at the Pacific Rim College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said Angela Furfaro.
She had been at the party and left about 11:30 p.m. to go home, a few doors down.
She happened to be riding her bike by the next morning and stood shocked to see there had been a fire at the house.
“I heard sirens last night and thought, ‘Wow, that’s close,’ ” she said through tears. “I need to find out what happened. I need to call my friends.”
Taxi driver Noah Ferguson was one of the first on the scene.
He finished his shift at 4 a.m. and was on his way home when he saw some cars pulled over on Johnson Street. He stopped to see what they were looking at.
“The entire front entrance and front corner of the house was engulfed in flames. It was absolutely a raging inferno,” he said. “The heat was face-searing from the other side of the street.”
Ferguson said he could not see any sign of people in the burning house.
“I couldn’t imagine how anybody could’ve gotten out of that,” he said.
He did see neighbours stir and yelled at them to get out of their houses. One fellow ran out of his home to move his vehicle.
The first responder he saw at the scene was a police officer carrying a fire extinguisher.
He went straight for a nearby van that had caught fire.
Victoria police Const. Mike Russell said a second officer went to the back of the house to help with the evacuation.
The officer suffered smoke-inhalation injuries in the process.
Within minutes, the fire chief and firefighters arrived, Ferguson said.
“They moved efficiently, but looked to be taken aback,” he said. “It was awful.”
Mike Hyde, a neighbour, was awakened by another neighbour who banged on his bedroom door. Hyde went outside to see the fire trucks and the house on fire. He said the rental home appeared to have college-aged tenants.
Another neighbour, who didn’t want her name used, said her landlord woke her about 4:30 a.m. and told her and her partner they should get out of the house.
“Firemen carried people out and put them on the ground, cutting their clothes off,” she said, adding that the people did not appear to be conscious.
At 6:40 a.m., firefighters were still working to put out hot spots in the character house, which had an estimated $150,000 in damages.
By 9:30 a.m., the coroner was on site and at least one body was taken away. Johnson Street was reopened by noon.
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