Joel Morrison was entertaining an elderly neighbour in his second-floor apartment in Lewis Apartments a little after 11 a.m. on New Year’s Eve when he heard two small booms, followed by a large boom that shook the whole four-storey building, located on Lewis Street in Duncan.
He said he saw a 10-foot ball of flame shoot out a patio window two storeys above his apartment, while cracks formed in his ceiling.
“I don’t even remember going outside, but I managed to get my 79-year-old friend and my dog Lily out,” Morrison said.
“I just sat on the sidewalk and I was in a state of shock. Other people were coming out of the building who also looked like they were panicked and there were pets running around everywhere. That’s when emergency crews and services arrived and took over the situation right away. I can’t thank them enough.”
The devastating fire tore through the Lewis Apartments, killing Gerry Dore, the tenant in the fourth-floor apartment where the fire started, and injuring several others.
The investigation into the fire is still ongoing.
Morrison said Keir Gervais, head of the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s emergency support services, and his team were on the scene within minutes after the fire started, and residents began evacuating the building, with some jumping from balconies.
He said Gervais and his team began taking the names of everyone who was forced out of their apartments by the fire, and collecting all the pets that were running loose in all the confusion.
Morrison said that in a short time, the ESS team had arranged lodgings for approximately 30 fire victims in local motels and hotels.
“I was sent to the Cowichan Valley Inn where I was very well treated for 14 days,” he said.
“I had lost everything I own, including my wallet, passport, clothing and furniture and I didn’t know what to do. But the ESS gave us vouchers for food and other necessities, and we were bused from the hotel to New Life Community Baptist Church for clothing. I now volunteer at New Life Church helping with deliveries because I don’t want anyone giving me anything for free.”
Morrison said that while he was staying at the hotel, Laurel [who asked that her last name not be used], a community integration worker with the Ministry of Social Services and Poverty Reduction, and other workers from the ministry were there every day checking to make sure all the fire victims had their required medications and other essentials, and even had people wearing hazmat suits enter the apartment building to retrieve medications from people’s apartments if necessary.
He said he was also helped in finding another apartment to live in, and he’s slowly rebuilding his life after the fire.
“I was blown away and amazed at how quickly people came together to help us, and I’m very thankful for everyone involved,” Morrison said.
“There is a GoFundMe page set up to help the fire victims and I hope it all goes to the ESS who took such good care of us. Everyone chipped in and it is really appreciated.”