Major fire engulfs historic block in downtown Nanaimo

Jacqui Kaese is no stranger to onscreen drama, but the film and TV acting coach got a taste of the real thing Wednesday when a fire in downtown Nanaimo hit perilously close to home.

The owner-operator of Spotlight Academy was shocked to learn that the building directly behind the one housing her studio was engulfed in flames.

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A Nanaimo Fire Rescue spokesman said crews started battling the “active major structure fire” at a building that houses numerous businesses at Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue about 6:30 p.m. 

> Thursday update — Nanaimo commercial block a 'total loss' from fire: official

Witnesses reported seeing thick, black smoke billowing from the two-storey building, with the night sky taking on an orange glow. The building, at 10 Commercial St., is believed to be about 100 years old. 

Kaese wasn’t aware of the fire until she received a call from her insurance company.

“They wanted me to know my studio was threatened, to be aware of it and how much equipment did I have?” said Kaese, who shares the 3,000-square-foot building at 15 Lois Lane with the Hub City Film Society.

“My immediate concern was for the young filmmakers — the ‘film kids’ as I call them — because all their equipment is that building.”

She said she was relieved when she learned later that the blaze had been prevented from spreading out the back of the building, which had housed the Acme Food Co. restaurant until about six months ago.

“It’s the businesses alongside it that are still under threat,” she said, referring to a fabric store, a clothing store and Nanaimo Arts Council space.

Hub City Film Society’s president Zachary Tannar was on site attempting to remove as much equipment as possible, she said.

Yasmin Ashi said she was shocked to learn about the raging fire while she was having her hair done with a friend at Bardot hair salon in the China Steps area.

“The blow dryer was probably loud and we were just talking and catching up,” said Ashi. “It’s amazing that we didn’t hear anything until just before two explosions happened.”

She said she experienced a strange feeling “and then it was boom, boom, boom, and everythng shook. As we looked out the door we saw everything.”

Nanaimo Fire Rescue urged motorists and pedestrians to stay away from the area as crews battled the stubborn blaze.

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