Residents of a Surrey strata-title apartment complex fear their building may have to be demolished after a fire swept through, leaving 101 people homeless.
The top floor of the Celeste apartment complex at 121 A Street and 82 Avenue in Surrey has extensive damage with the roof on many of the units destroyed from the fire that was reported shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday night.
Many of the displaced residents have young children. The building also has a large number of senior citizens.
“The whole roof has caved in,” said Kory Campbell, 34, who lived on the top floor with his wife and five-month-old baby. “Everything is gone and there is a lot of smoke and water damage,” he said. “We have lost everything, the shower gifts, pictures, it is all gone.”
No one was injured in the four-alarm blaze that took about 40 Surrey firefighters much of the night to contain. Campbell, who did not have insurance, said many of the residents have cats or dogs and some have yet to find their pets.
“I heard a couple of animals died,” he said as he met with other displaced residents who were staying at the Newton Senior’s Centre until they could find other accommodation.
One of his neighbours was in Maple Ridge for the night and did not know whether his cat survived the intense heat and smoke. “My buddy was hysterical over his cat,” he said.
Once he was able to get his family out safely, Campbell said he could watch from the road as the fire moved swiftly from floor to floor. “They might have to tear the building down,” he said sadly of the four-floor building.
At least 101 residents are now desperate to find accommodation, with many having left the building with nothing but the clothes on their back.
Rupinder Kahlon, 31, has lived in the Celeste for two years and said he smelled the fire from his first floor unit and pulled the fire alarm and called for help. He then started banging on doors to get residents out of the building.
“The fire just kept getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “They said it will be a couple of days before they know if the building can be saved. I didn’t expect this much damage. We now are looking for another place to live.”
His cousin Amandeep Singh, 28, was visiting and said they did everything they could to warn other residents. “I pulled the alarm and went door to door telling them to get out,” he said. “The flames kept getting higher.”
Resident Neetu Khaira, 35, was alerted by screams coming from her neighbours.
“We heard people screaming,” she said. “I was banging on people’s doors.” She too has no idea if she will be able to return to her home any time soon. “I’m lucky to be able to stay with my aunt,” she said.
Surrey Fire Capt. Wes Eaton said they were continuing to try lost pets on Sunday. “We brought out a cat and a rabbit and a few are still missing,” he said. “There were no injuries to people that we know of,” he added.
David Cowie, the president of the strata council in the building beside the Celeste, said they had feared the fire would jump to their complex. “It was terrifying for the people who live on that one side of the building.,” he said. “They thought it was going to start up in our building.”
He said Surrey RCMP moved quickly in helping to evacuate his building. “The flames were 15 to 20 feet high,” he said.
As concern about his building catching fire grew, Cowie said RCMP were forced to break down the doors of anyone who did not answer their emergency call. He estimates about 40 doors were broken by police as they worked to get everyone out of his building.
”It was a major concern to get everyone out of our building,” he said.
Surrey councillor Bruce Hayne said 101 people from the building registered at the emergency centre at the Newton Senior’s Centre. He said funding from the provincial emergency program will pay for short term hotel rooms for those who need them.
“The residents have been traumatized by this. It’s a very trying and traumatic event for everyone, and a lot of these people are seniors,” said Hayne.
“It’s very fortunate that everyone got out unhurt and that there were no injuries to the fire service.”
Some residents said they were told a group of partiers on the second floor were using a barbecue and it somehow ignited the outside deck.
But Surrey’s assistant fire chief Brian Woznikoski by late Sunday said the fire is not suspicious and that a fire investigator had ruled out a barbecue as a possible cause.
“He is going to continue investigating. It appears it started on the exterior on a balcony,” said Woznikoski. “We are narrowing it down.”
“The damage is extreme to the fourth floor of the building,” he said.