Esquimalt fire victim’s cat found alive after jumping from fourth floor

A cat belonging to the Esquimalt woman who died in an apartment fire has been found alive, but badly burned.

Judith Burke died April 7 after flames consumed her fourth-floor unit at 843 Craigflower Rd. Firefighters rescued several people from their balconies as smoke billowed from the building. Witnesses saw a cat, believed to be Burke’s, jump from the fourth floor.

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After a week of searching, volunteers from Find Lost and Escaped Cats found Blueberry under a bush near the apartment complex on Monday night, said the pet search group’s co-founder Gary Shade.

The Siamese cross smelled of smoke and had burned paws and singed fur and whiskers, but didn’t break any bones, Shade said.

A volunteer named Jessica had returned to the building almost every night for a week looking for the cat, using a vest worn by Burke to try to lure the cat with her owner’s scent. A feeding station she set up drew other cats and raccoons.

When Jessica saw the blue-eyed cat under the bush Monday, she laid down the vest so Blueberry could smell it while Jessica’s mother petted the cat.

Blueberry is now recovering at the Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital. Burke’s will included instructions on Blueberry’s care, Shade said, adding that the new caretaker is relieved that the cat has been found safe.

“That’s definitely a piece of positivity that might come out of an otherwise sad and tragic situation,” said Esquimalt Fire Chief Chris Jankowski.

The fire department is still investigating the blaze, but the preliminary finding is that it was accidental and caused by human error, Jankowski said. The fire originated in the kitchen/living room area of Burke’s suite.

The entire 47-unit apartment building remains evacuated, said Blair McDonald, the township’s director of community safety.

Property manager Belmont Properties covered an extra week of emergency social support beyond the initial 72 hours, and the province has stepped in to pay for displaced residents to stay at a hotel until the end of the month, McDonald said.

Some people with disabilities have been helped by the Red Cross. An online campaign organized by Esquimalt Church of the Nazarene has raised $9,000.

Residents whose suites have minimal smoke and water damage could be allowed to return to their homes by April 27, he said. Belmont Properties is working to find homes in other buildings for those whose suites suffered more significant damage.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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