Duncan apartment fire forces 100 out

More than 100 residents were left wondering when they could return to their homes after a fire in a Dobson Road apartment complex on Sunday afternoon.

The blaze, which broke out on the third floor of the south end of Parkland Place shortly after 3 p.m. and spread up to the fourth floor, was put down quickly by Duncan and South End firefighters. The entire structure was evacuated, however, and residents were staying with family or friends, or in emergency facilities set up by the Cowichan Valley Regional District at the Island Savings Centre.

"We did a quick knockdown," Duncan Fire Chief Mike McKinlay said. "It was pretty well under control 35 minutes after we got there. After that it was a matter of dealing with hot spots and getting the smoke out."

There was initial concern that some individuals were trapped in the complex, but when all was said and done, no residents were injured.

"We called for mutual aid from North Cowichan because of the size of the building and because people were phoning and saying people were still inside," McKinlay related.

The only person hurt turned out to be a firefighter who was bitten by a dog he was trying to rescue.

The building is home to many animals, some of whom made it out along with the human residents, some of whom were rescued by firefighters, and some who remained inside awaiting the return of their human families.

Resident Frank Stevens stood outside the building holding a scared black and white cat named Doots. The fire started just down the hall from his suite, he said, and he managed to get both his cats out. False alarms aren’t uncommon at Parkland Place, but Stevens said he knew right away this was a real one.

"Someone said, ‘Oh, it’s just somebody smoking under the smoke alarm again,’" he said. "But I said, ‘No, that’s the alarm in the hall. It’s a real fire."

Although one resident was found still in bed after 5 p.m., most of the people in the building got out on their own.

"Being that the fire was during the day was a blessing," McKinlay said. "The alarm system did activate and got everybody moving.

Some people didn’t want to leave." The CVRD was quick to set up an emergency reception centre at the Island Savings Centre, providing food, and in some cases lodging, for displaced residents.

"We registered over 100 people," emergency services coordinator Sybille Sanderson related. "Some went and stayed elsewhere, and some stayed with us."

Firefighters were sent back in throughout Sunday and into Monday to retrieve necessary items for the evacuees.

"The fire department was wonderful about going back in and getting as much as they could in the way of medication," said Sanderson.

At a community meeting early Monday afternoon, residents learned that some parts of the building – the structure is made up of five "pods" separated by firewalls – could be open for their return as soon as Tuesday. Hydro was restored Monday. The speed at which residents can return will depend on the amount of damage, from fire, smoke and water, and from doors that had to be broken open when the building’s master key was only able to open about 70 per cent of the units. Smoke damage was limited to the south end of the building, McKinlay said.

As of Monday, the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.