The B.C. Coroners Service has confirmed that one person has died following a devastating fire at an apartment building in North Cowichan on New Year’s Eve.
“The BC Coroners Service has been notified of one death relating to this incident and we are currently investigating to determine all of the facts. As per the Coroners Act, to protect the privacy of the deceased, we cannot confirm or release identification,” the office said in an email.
Dozens of people milled about in a daze in front of Lewis Apartments on Lewis Street in the Municipality of North Cowichan Thursday afternoon as firefighters fought a blaze that swept through units on the fourth floor, sending residents scrambling to escape the inferno.
The call came in at 12:52 p.m. and fire crews from Duncan and North Cowichan’s South End as well as Maple Bay and Crofton halls were quickly on the scene and began putting up ladders to help people escape their balconies on the third and fourth floors, as well as beginning to put the fire out. Forty-two firefighters in all attended the scene.
According to BCEHS, 10 ground ambulances were dispatched, in addition to an air ambulance.
Major injuries are reported.
One witness said they saw two people jump from the burning building.
“Paramedics cared for multiple patients onsite before transporting six patients in stable condition and one patient in serious condition to hospital by ground,” said BCEHS spokesperson Sarah Morris. “One other patient, in critical condition, was cared for by our Critical Care Team and flown by air ambulance to a higher level of care facility.”
One woman at the scene, who asked that she not be identified, said she was visiting a fourth floor apartment when a loud explosion was heard next door, followed by the smell of smoke.
“We couldn’t get out of there fast enough,” she said.
“It went off like a bomb. We barely got out.”
The Cowichan Valley Regional District said set up an emergency reception centre at the Cowichan Community Centre, but all apartment residents were able to be accomodated at hotels.
Martin Drakeley, manager of fire and bylaw for the Municipality of North Cowichan, said the RCMP are in charge of the investigation into the fire.
North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP were asking people to avoid the area as roads are blocked to all vehicle and foot traffic.