6:45 p.m. Firfighters are clearing the building, ensuring no resident remains
Firefighters are clearing the building to ensure no resident is left behind in the 64-unit fire off Rutland Road at the Legacy Apartments.
In a press briefing from the site, Kelowna Fire Department Chief Jeff Carlisle (below) said no one is believed to have been injured in the blaze, which took 70 firefighters from some four fire halls to snuff out.
News for residents hoping to return home is not so good.
“It’s unlikely the residents will be back in anytime soon, if at all,” he said, noting the roof of the structure is entirely gone.
The 64-unit condominium complex is an L-shaped building and the middle of the ‘L’ has burned away.
Three city buses were called to the site to transport residents to the Salvation Army on Sutherland Avenue where Emergency Social Services has set up shop.
Sasha, a 28-year-old single mother who did not wish her last name to be used, had no shoes when she left the building.
“I just grabbed my kid and ran,” she said, her five-year-old son, Kain, in tow.
A renter without insurance, she was visibly upset and said she did not know what she is going to do next.
A meeting has been set up for tomorrow at 6 p.m. in order for all of the residents to begin figuring out answers to such questions.
Ironically, the Red Cross sent out a message at 4:30 p.m., just as the fire began, indicating anyone displaced by Saturday’s Bristol Apartment fire can find assistance with food, shelter and other basic needs at the same Salvation Army Church, 1480 Sutherland Avenue, where the Legacy residents are headed. Emergency Social Services has signed off on helping with that fire.
6 p.m. Residents are reporting an explosion started the blaze
Residents are reporting an explosion preceded the huge condominium fire underway on Rutland Road at the Legacy Apartments.
Pam Solmonson, who has lived on the top floor since March, believes the fire started directly below her unit, or one floor below.
“Everything is completely toast. Everything is gone,” she said through tears as she relayed a harrowing tale of escape.
Solmonson said she heard the sound of an explosion and went out onto her deck where she discovered plumes of thick, black smoke rising from the floors beneath her apartment; she grabbed two bags and ran out.
Officially, just over half of the occupants have been accounted for with fire crews still searching for residents from 19 apartments; those units including some who may be away or still at work, according to deputy fire chief Lou Wilde.
To the best of Wilde’s knowledge, nobody is injured.
The 64 units are condominiums, meaning they are freehold properties, but many units house renters leasing from those individual owners.
Everyone involved is being transported to the Salvation Army on Sutherland Avenue via city buses and several firefighters are now being treated by BC Ambulance Service, owing to the extreme heat and smoke on scene.
Elaine (right) and Ron Fountain are owners in the building and said they never even heard an alarm; they simply saw the smoke and fled. Ron did not even have time to grab a shirt.
Madelyne Klose confirmed she did hear an alarm, however, she initially chose to ignore it as the building’s alarm system goes off frequently. It was another resident who screamed at her to get out of the building that set her in motion. She grabbed her dog and headed for the congested street.
Klose said she was a little concerned with the response time from the Kelowna Fire Department, noting one truck appeared to be dousing the back of the building fairly quickly, but it took 20 minutes for another truck to show up and deal with the growing wall of flames on the front of the structure.
“The people are the biggest concern right now,” said building manager Greg Smart, Kelowna Condominium Services, telling the Capital News reporters a cause has yet to be determined.
Residents on site all seemed to indicate an explosion started the fire, most speculating it had something to do with a propane tank on one of the third floor balconies. One theory had a cigarette butt falling into an eaves trough and igniting the propane canister from there.
4:45 p.m. Legacy Apartments on fire
A three-floor fire at the Legacy Apartments directly in front of Rutland Senior Secondary has a string of fire trucks, including two ladder trucks, on scene.
The four-storey, wood-frame building is part of a 64-unit condo development of two buildings—one, the old Rutland Elementary School, a heritage building converted to apartments.
Hundreds of people have gathered on site to watch as the six-year-old development burns, blocking easy access to this central Rutland neighbourhood where the Rutland Family YMCA, secondary and middle school are located.
Police are ushering residents of the buildings off to one side, separating them from the rest of the onlookers in order to begin head counts.
Fire crews were called out shortly before 4:30 p.m. and immediately asked for power to be shut off in the area as the blaze was already dangerously close to surrounding power lines.
A thick plume of smoke could be seen from UBCO as large flames lapped at the top floors of the building, almost instantaneously.
Fire crews started at the front of the building as the fire spread in from both the left and right-hand sides of the top floors (when looking at the building from Rutland Road).
As flames at the front subsided, fire crews began concentrating efforts on the back half of the building where the inferno is chewing through the roof.
The hazardous materials team has just been called to the scene.
In the meantime, concerned citizens have already started to contact the newsroom, one offering up a spare room to anyone displaced by the blaze.
This is the second significant apartment fire for the week in the same Rutland neighbourhood.