Woman rescued man in Merville fire, but couldn’t save his wife

When Amber Foster returned from a walk Tuesday morning, she heard screams and saw smoke pouring out of the second storey of her apartment building in Merville, near Courtenay.

Foster said she didn’t have time to be terrified when she saw flames shooting from the suite of her friend Len Brown in the Hillview Apartments.

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“I just had to run up there. It was insane. He’s like my dad. He’s like the only father figure I have in my life,” said Foster, 38, who lives in a suite on the ground floor with her mother, Laurel Mitchell.

Foster grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran up the stairs. A neighbour was outside calling 911.

“Next thing you know, I’m in the apartment trying to put out the flames. There was a whole lot of smoke and it was just awful. I emptied out the whole fire extinguisher. The smoke was unbelievable. … It was just horrendous.”

She and a man pulled Brown out of the apartment, but were unable to find Brown’s wife, Charlotte.

“He pretty much passed out, half in the doorway, half out. And we’re pulling him out and trying to pull him down the stairs. It was just unbelievable. And we’re pulling him and pulling him, and he’s just dead weight at six-foot tall. He’s like my father. I wouldn’t have left him there,” she said.

When firefighters arrived, Foster had to tell them that Brown’s wife hadn’t made it out.

“But there was no way of saving her. The smoke was just too thick.”

She had just had coffee with Len and Charlotte that morning.

“My mother’s really torn up because Charlotte is her best friend. Charlotte was an awesome woman. She was so great. They were together for 24 years,” said Foster, adding Brown is still in hospital, in intensive care. “He’s probably going to be in there for a few days because he had some severe smoke inhalation.”

Foster was also treated for smoke inhalation and admitted she felt fragile on Wednesday. “It’s been a nightmare. It’s all up in the air now.”

Emergency social services took residents to a motel in Courtenay, where they can stay until Friday morning.

Foster said all she has are some clothes and her turtle. At this point, she’s not sure if the building is going to be torn down.

“My stuff hasn’t burned, but I’m not sure if we can even get it out. Basically, they let us in for a few minutes to grab a few things. The building is being guarded by the police at least until the investigation is over. Then maybe we’ll be able to go back and retrieve some things.”

A GoFundMe page called “Lost everything in fire” is raising money for the tenants.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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