The site of the massive fire in Kelowna Saturday that saw a six-story condominium building under construction collapse (foreground) and another building in the same development on Truswell Road badly burned (rear). A third building, a residential motel nearby, was also badly damaged.—Image credit: Warren Henderson/Capital News

Work of Kelowna firefighters praised

Four firefighters narrowly escaped a burning building before it collapsed Saturday.

The work of Kelowna firefighters is being hailed in light of a massive blaze Saturday that destroyed a condominium building under construction in city’s Mission area.

The fire caused the collapse of the six-storey unoccupied building at the Water’s Edge development on Truswell Road, and tore through the upper floors floors of the adjacent occupied building in the development.

The fire is believed to have started on the roof of the building where work was being done. A workman was reportedly taken to hospital with burns following his attempt to extinguish the flames.

All residents of the occupied second building in the development alongside Mission Creek were quickly evacuated when the fire first broke out next door around noon on Saturday. No injuries were reported among the residents but many have been left homeless.

In addition, a number of units in the nearby Walnut Grove residential motel were also destroyed, according to firefighters on the scene.

An estimated 176 people were evacuated as a result of the fire, including residents of nine nearby houses.

Three firefighters, however, were sent to hospital as a result of the huge blaze, two with minor injuries and one with more serious burns to his hands and legs.

Firefighter Chris Zimmermann is being credited with saving the lives of three of his fellow firefighters, all of whom narrowly escaped the burning building prior to it collapsing.

The firefighters were trapped on a balcony high up when Zimmermann brought them down to safety.

The son of well-known former Kelowna fire chief Gerry Zimmerman, he was hailed as a hero Monday afternoon at Kelowna city council for his work in the rescue.

“He put himself between his men and the fire,” said Coun. Mohini Singh, who said she talked to Chris Zimmermann in the hospital where he is recovering.

She said she thanked him for his bravery and he replied he was just doing his job.

At the scene Saturday, incident commander deputy fire chief Lou Wilde summered up the relief he felt at getting his men off the burning building in time saying “We got lucky today.”

“It’s not something I ever want to go through again,” he added.

Firefighters Mitch Hanes, Troy Manchur, John Wright and Zimmermann, despite his burned hands, were able to race to safety down a fire department ladder.

Current Kelowna fire chief Travis Whiting said a full investigation will be done into the blaze.

One of the questions that will be addressed, he said, is a concern many of the displaced Water’s Edge and Walnut Grove residents raised during the fire that they felt was the inability of fire trucks to get down a laneway between the two buildings during the early stages of the fire.

While Whiting said he could not comment directly on that as he was at another area of the fire early on, he said there could be a number of reasons a fire truck would not be sent in between two buildings during a fire. One of them could be the fear a building collapse. And that is what happened Saturday.

At the scene, Wilde said the heavy smoke and the collapse were reasons why the fire trucks did not use the laneway.

Ryan Smith of the city’s planning department said a variance for the setback of the development’s parkade was granted in 2015 when the development was approved. But,he added, that did not result in a laneway too thin to accommodate firetrucks.

He said the fire department would not have signed off on the development had that been the case. He said the setback variance was for the parkade, not the buildings.

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