Vernon fire crews battle a stubborn blaze in the Arbor Lee apartments next to Turtle Mountain Monday evening. (Jennifer Smith/Morning Star)

UPDATE: Condo fire forces out families

Heavy damage leaves several families homeless

The blaze that broke out in a Vernon condominium complex Monday has forced 29 people from their homes.

Eight units in Arbor Lee Strata (3800 40th Ave.) were heavily damaged (while damage was also sustained to additional units) after a fire broke out on the balcony of one of the suites. Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to the stubborn structure fire shortly before 7 p.m.

An estimated $2 million in damage occurred and 29 individuals from 11 families are currently receiving Emergency Social Services assistance.

“Some families are staying with family and friends while others are staying at the Vernon Lodge,” said VFRS deputy chief Scott Hemstad.

Despite the damage, no occupants were injured from the fire. In fact some four-legged residents were saved.

“After the fire was extinguished we actually located three family pets. So some good news out of a difficult night,” said Hemstad.

Even Karmen Krystik, whose unit the fire started in, was able to get her pets out safely, as her sister Kortney told The Morning Star.

“The fire started on her patio, she was just getting home with her son, heard the bang, seen the smoke and told him to stay in the car and ran inside grabbed her cat and dog and ran out. She lost everything she owns aside from what they had on them.”

Kortney is hoping friends and the community can help her sister out during this time of need (donations are being accepted via email transfers to karmenkrystik@gmail.com or by visiting the Royal Bank Village Green Centre account #07950-5134143 250 309 0808.

“I’m still in shock,” said Karmen, who is now homeless and in need of a two-bedroom, pet friendly rental – along with several other residents from the condo.

A gofundme account has also been set up for another family who has lost everything in the fire: https://www.gofundme.com/fabnwe-emergency-funding

Alysia Preece lives in one of the adjacent units, but not the affected block (the fire was contained to a neighbouring 14-unit block) and got a call from her sister shortly after 6 p.m. saying she needed to get home and get her animals out as her house was on fire.

“But it wasn’t our house,” said five-year-old Chloe Preece, wearing a mask as she watched the firefighters battle the blaze.

“It was very scary; I was shaking when I got home,” said Alysia.

Residents and bystanders were choking on the thick smoke from the blaze, some given masks by emergency crews.

“The toxins that come out of structure fires…is extremely toxic,” said Hemstad. “I would discourage people from being around smoke that was coming off a structure fire.”

Residents in the eight heavily damaged suites likely won’t be able to return for several months.

While the blaze started on the balcony, it got into the attic and spread to nearby units and proved to be stubborn for crews who had to cut open the roof to get at it.

“It became a long and difficult struggle based on the years of construction of that building,” said Hemstad, estimating the building to be built sometime between 1950 and 1970. “It was a difficult fire.

“At one point we had to pull our crews out and go defensive which means that it was too dangerous to be inside the structure.”

The building was heavily damaged by fire, heat, smoke and water.

Coldstream and BX fire departments each supplied fire fighters to help sustain operations during the fire. RCMP, BCAS, and the gas and electrical utilities also supported the response activities.

The housing complex has been secured and fire investigators were on scene Tuesday. At this point no cause of the fire has been determined.

While no residents were injured, one fire fighter received medical attention for minor injuries. But overall, the team effort and work which was needed throughout the night to douse the blaze, is applauded.

“I am impressed with our first arriving fire fighters, they did the right things in those first moments which sets up the rest of the operation for success,” said Lind. “Throughout this event I witnessed excellent team work by all those involved.”

Narrow roadways and a swarm of onlookers created challenges for crews trying to access the complex. This, and the fact that Arbor Lee backs onto Turtle Mountain, is a concern for neighbours such as Dave Worrall.

“We’ve always been worried about a fire on the hill here,” he said.

Hemstad asks that residents plan and practice a fire escape plan from their home.

“Remember, you need two ways out.”

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Jennifer Smith/Morning Star Chloe Preece, five, and her parents try to block out the thick smoke with masks while watching firefighters battle flames in the condos where they live. The fire was contained to 11 units and did not damage their home.

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