The Chilliwack Fire Department has confirmed one person died in an apartment building fire early Thursday (July 29) morning.
Around 1:20 a.m., 50 firefighters responded from six halls responded to multiple reports of a fire at Hazelwood Manor at 9282 Hazel Street. They arrived to find heavy flames and black smoke venting through the roof of two apartments at the rear of the structure.
Several residents were trapped on their balconies and fire crews quickly deployed ground ladders to rescue those people.
A water supply was secured and hose lines were used to set up a defensive attack on the fire. It took several hours to get it under control, but the fire was prevented from jumping to nearby buildings.
Shari Hamilton, who lives behind the 50-unit building, said she was woken up just after 1 a.m. by the sound of people yelling.
“I thought it was just people arguing, but then I could make out ‘Fire! Fire!’ and the guy sounded absolutely terrified,” she said. “When I went outside, I could see the flames.”
Hamilton said a fire alarm had gone off in the building, but because it is pulled so often by pranksters, residents were slow to respond.
“They were all ignoring it because there are false fire alarms all the time,” she said. “So two guys ran into the burning building and started knocking on doors yelling ‘Fire! Fire.’ Even then they said some people weren’t coming out because they thought it was a prank.”
One person who did come out, accompanied by his mom, was a five-year-old boy who lives on the first floor.
“He was watching his home burn down and all he was saying was ‘Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus’ every time the flames would shoot up,” Hamilton said. “He was crying and he kept asking his mom, ‘Am I going to lose all my toys?’ It was terrible. So terrible.”
Witness reports said the one fatality occured when a person jumped from a balcony to escape the fire, and Hamilton said other people were jumping off their balconies to escape the blaze.
By the time she retreated to bed at 4 a.m. the fire was still raging.
It was brought under control but reignited several times overnight, including a flare-up the next morning that had fire crews returning to douse it.
The building sustained heavy fire, smoke and water damage resulting in structural instability.
Residents fleeing the blaze were evacuated to the Chilliwack Coliseum to receive emergency social services, while some were treated in hospital.
In addition to the one death, two firefighters suffered minor smoke inhalation. They were assessed and released by BC Emergency Health Services paramedics at the scene.
Krista Vrolyk, spokesperson for the Upper Fraser Valley RCMP said they are in the very preliminary stages of investigating along with the Chilliwack Fire Department and BC Coroners Service, as the building is still unsafe to enter.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected,” Vrolyk said. “And full credit to the Chilliwack Fire Department. Their quick response and brave actions definitely saved lives.”
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