Officials have yet to determine a cause for the fiery blaze that saw 40 firefighters from Duncan, Cowichan Bay and North Cowichan’s South End hall converge at 660 Dobson St. at the Parkland Apartments on Sunday, June 3 about 8 a.m.
The area near the building was full of fire trucks and emergency vehicles. Maple Bay sent a crew to stand by at the Duncan fire hall in case there was another call out in the Valley: to Duncan, North Cowichan, or Cowichan Bay.
Residents had to deal with heavy smoke as they tried to make their way out of the building. Both residents and firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation on the scene.
A medevac helicopter was called and landed at nearby McAdam Park, just as a group of women were playing flag football, to take away some of the most seriously injured if needed.
The fire was still burning in a first floor suite at 12:15 p.m. but in other parts of the building firefighters were starting to look for hot spots.
Others of the crew were looking for pets as the owners watched the scene from the street with others from nearby.
Two school buses were brought to McKinstry Road to take residents away from the area. An emergency shelter for them was opened in the multi-purpose hall at the Island Savings Centre by 12:45 p.m. and in a short time, food and drinks were being carried upstairs to the Heritage Hall, where the displaced people were being offered a place to rest.
In the Heritage Hall, by 1:30 p.m., people were streaming in to register.
They were young and old, some people had brought their pets with them. They were seated on rows of chairs from which they were taken off in order to be registered and so staff could find out what their needs were. Staff from other CVRD facilities were also on hand to help out.
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent was prominent among those greeting the apartment dwellers: sitting in his wheelchair, talking to them, and hearing their stories as they sat and waited to be registered.
Some of the people waiting smelled strongly of smoke; most had only a small bag or a few belongings with them, one man was carefully guarding two cats in a carrier, others had small dogs on leashes.
The atmosphere there was subdued, although many were gratefully eating sandwiches.
However, a therapy dog from St. Peter’s Church made a real difference, and was very warmly greeted by the folks at the Hall, according to volunteers.
Meanwhile, at the apartment building itself, firefighters tried to find the best places for the big fans so as to blow the heavy smoke out of the building.
By 12:50 p.m., questions were being asked about getting security set up for the building, and if firefighters needed food.
By Monday, the impetus had changed, according to Duncan Fire Chief Mike McKinlay.
“We’re trying to get the people back in, block off the area so that it’s safe for them to get back in.
“Right now we’re not even concentrating on the cause [of the fire],” McKinlay said.
“Our main concern right now is trying to get all the people that have been displaced, get their medicines out the building, and to find out if there’s any more animals in there, to organize them that way. Then we’ll get down to the cause, it will probably be later in the week that we get to that,” he said.
The fire was under control within an hour, he said, then it was just a matter of getting to all the hot spots.
“We were another three hours doing that. Then, at the fire end of the building, we were working to help all the people set up for the things they had to get: their medicines, and their animals,” McKinlay said. “Now, it’s all about the recovery: getting things back into order for them.”
Meanwhile, on Facebook, thoughts and prayers were being offered to the displaced people, and one nearby resident said, “the silence from the nearby building is weird. Thinking of my bazillion neighbours all waking up in the Heritage Hall at the Community Centre this morning. Hope everyone got some sleep.”