A three-alarm blaze at Highlands Retirement Residence Monday morning saw some quick thinking bystanders step in to save an elderly man and his cat.
Located at 400 Snowsell Street, the home is on the outer edge of residential development in Glenmore and it took some time for rescue crews, both regular firefighters and members of the Glenmore paid on-call crew, to arrive at the scene.
As the time passed, an elderly man, who had already cleared the building, ran back inside to save his cats.
Passersby jumped in to pull him back out of the burning structure, saying they could already see flames lapping at his room as they forced him out.
“It went up quick. About 30 seconds and it was in full flames,” said Howard Pfefferle, who pulled up to the Snowsell Street home at 10 a.m. after noticing a plume of thick smoke.
He called 911, then ran in to rescue the elderly man, managing to get the man and one of the animals, which bit him in the process. He and a handful of other bystanders then tried to help staff ensure others were not trapped inside.
“…We just went door to door trying to kick the doors in and banging on the doors; but we had a lot of staff running up and down the hallway, so we believe we got everybody,” he said.
Inside the structure, the hallway was full of “very thick, heavy black smoke,” meaning those involved could see no further than two feet and had to stay low in order to catch their breath. As he emerged from the building, young construction contractor Travis Wonch said he could hear people asking for help when he was inside.
A residents list was checked and all 65 residents were accounted for by 10:30 a.m., though five people were treated for smoke inhalation.
Some 40 firefighters managed to save the bulk of the building, but the back 18 units were destroyed in the blaze, which was described by the fire department as difficult due to the weather conditions.
“The intense heat today, combined with the fast growing fire, created some challenges for firefighters,” said deputy fire chief Thomas Doherty in a statement released mid-afternoon. “… Firefighters had to be switched out frequently, due to the heat, to ensure crews did not become dehydrated.”
The displaced residents were bused to North Glenmore Elementary School in the immediate aftermath and Glenmore Drive was blocked to all traffic for the morning to give emergency vehicles room to fight the fire then mop up the mess.
By the 2:30 p.m., staff at a 24-hour assisted living facility in downtown Kelowna, Laurier Manor, tweeted the facility has room to offer those displaced by the fire a bed. The facility has three spare rooms and an empty downstairs where beds could be set up to help anyone without a place to stay, staff said.