Woman dies in Campbell River house fire; ignited in carport

The fire that led to the death of a 60-year-old Campbell River woman started outside her house in a carport, Campbell River fire inspectors have determined. Inspectors are waiting for more tests to confirm whether the cause was a pile of oily rags that spontaneously combusted.

The fire started about 6 a.m. Monday as Stephen and Elsa Martin were sleeping.Stephen managed to get out, but black smoke stopped him from returning to help his wife.

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Investigators spent Tuesday piecing through the charred wreckage of the two-storey house.

The fire started where the garage meets the house, under a carport area where a car was parked, said Campbell River Fire Chief Ian Baikie. The car was not the source of the fire, Baikie said.

There were about five cars parked in the driveway, all of which eventually caught fire as the house went up in flames.

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A 60-year-old woman is dead, despite her husband’s efforts to save her, after flames ripped through a Campbell River home Monday.

Elsa Martin has been identified as the woman who died.

Her husband Stephen tried to go back into the house to save Elsa, but the black smoke and heat pushed him back, his sister said.

“He tried, he went back but it was all black smoke and he couldn’t get to her,” said Gail Erikson, just before she drove to Campbell River to be with her brother.

The couple was sleeping on the second floor of the house, in the 800 block of South Alder Street near Marina Boulevard, when fire broke out around 6 a.m.

Several neighbours called 911 when they spotted flames and black smoke billowing in the air.

“The male occupant of the home was out and telling me his wife was still inside,” Campbell River Fire Chief Ian Baikie said. “By his description of where she was in the home, on the second floor, she wasn’t going to survive.”

Baikie said 18 firefighters fought the blaze. They could hear bangs and pops all around them as propane tanks and vehicle gas tanks exploded.

“It was something like I had never seen before,” said photographer Dustin Abernethy, who saw the fire just after 6 a.m. “The whole house was in flames.”

Once the fire was out, firefighters searched the house and found Elsa. Her body was removed by firefighters and the coroner.

Baikie said the home, built in the 1960s, was destroyed.

“It’s an older home so there’s no drywall in the basement, all wood panelling,” Baikie said. “So the fire, once inside the building, was moving pretty quickly.”

Campbell River RCMP said the fire is not considered suspicious. Fire inspectors will go to the scene today to try to determine what caused the fire.

Baikie said there was an extensive workshop in a double-car garage at the back of the home, and at least five cars in the garage and driveway.

Fire inspectors are looking into whether the fire started in one of the cars and spread to the house.

“At first blush it looks like it started on that side of the house,” Baikie said.

The Martins, who have three adult children, bought the home in 1979, according to land title documents. They own three other homes on Alder Street.

Martin and his family are getting support from RCMP Victim Services.

“He’s got family all around him,” Baikie said. “There’s a large extended family that came to the scene.”

Baikie said it was the first fatal fire in Campbell River in more than five years.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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