More than four dozen tenants — including a young family new to Canada — remain without homes after fire broke out in a four-storey apartment building in Esquimalt on Saturday night.
Esquimalt Assistant Fire Chief Ray Saurette had said he hoped some residents would be home Monday, but that was dependent on air-quality testing.
Tenant Shaheen Domay said residents remained out of the building on Monday.
“We are being let in one by one with masks to grab a bag of personal stuff,” she said. “The building is still very stinky and unsafe.”
Everyone escaped and no one was injured in Saturday’s fire, the cause of which remains under investigation, said Saurette.
Flames shot out of second-floor windows up to the top of Magnolia Manor, 830 Craigflower Rd., shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday. Smoke billowed out of the windows.
On Sunday, two black holes faced the street where windows once were. Melted blinds hung in a third-floor window.
The fire is believed to have started in a second-floor unit, where a mother and father lived with their two young sons and baby daughter.
Saurette said the family is from Jordan and lost everything. Inquires are being made on how to co-ordinate help, a task that might be handled by the mosque the family attends.
The family is currently being cared for through Esquimalt’s emergency social services program, but the provincial program only provides funding for the initial 72 hours after an event.
Fellow tenants also said family members speak little English. The family moved into the building a couple of months ago, said Domay.
They arrived home at 9:15 p.m. and heard smoke alarms sounding, Saurette said. The blaze in the 1974 building was contained to that unit.
The 31-unit property is part of the Toronto-based Capreit group, one of Canada’s largest residential landlords.
When the building is deemed safe to re-enter, firefighters will investigate to determine the cause of the blaze, Saurette said.
Domay, who lives on the fourth floor, was the first person out of the building. She was going out to take her Dachshund-cross dog Mabel for their nightly walk when alarms sounded behind her.
She heard a crackling sound and looked up at a second-floor window. “It was yellow and within two seconds, it just blew out.”
Some tenants went out on their patios to look around and see what was happening.
Domay ran along the driveway next to the building to warn others. “I was yelling, ‘Fire — a real fire and flames.’”
“They all just started piling out — the front door, the back door, the side door.”
One woman who lives on the second floor grabbed her dog and crawled outside, Domay said.
Domay wanted to make sure longtime friends Treena and Joe Sinkiewicz and their teenage daughter on the third floor were OK.
Treena heard the fire alarm and footsteps running in the halls. “I thought, ‘That’s not right.’ ”
When she opened the patio door and smelled smoke, “We grabbed what we could. We heard yelling, ‘There’s flames. Get out now.’ ” They raced out with other tenants. “They were running. They were screaming. Freaking out.”
Domay said: “It was chaos at the beginning.”
One man was passing by and stopped to ask if anyone was left in the building because he would have gone inside, she said.
Joe Sinkiewicz said everyone was out within about five minutes.
Neighbours offered blankets, Domay said. “It was great. Everybody checked on everybody.”
Saurette said fire crews had to break down a “bunch of doors” to make sure all the occupants were out of the building.
Emergency social services were on hand to assist. Residents were first taken to the Church of the Nazarene at 886 Craigflower Rd. and then offered rooms at the Sandman Hotel, 2852 Douglas St., transported via B.C. Transit buses. More rooms were booked at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort and Spa on Sunday.