Nicholas Pescod/Black Press

Emergency Support Services helping displaced residents after Parksville apartment fire

Salvation Army co-ordinates aid for refugees from Thursday blaze at Ocean Terrace Apartments

No serious injuries were reported, but residents were displaced to an emergency reception centre after a large apartment fire broke out Thursday night, July 6, in Parksville.

Rob Daman with the Oceanside Emergency Response Service (ESS), said about 32 people registered with ESS Friday, following the fire at Ocean Terrace Apartments, at 240 Island Hwy. W. Daman said people were sent over to the reception centre Thursday night and were provided with shelter, food and clothing.

At the reception centre, Daman said, there is a registration process where volunteers will take the displaced residents’ information to see if they have places they can stay for the time being.

“We encourage people if they have friends or families that they can stay with… If they do not, then we’re able to call around to local hotels and secure accomodations for them for up to 72 hours.”

In a news release issued Friday afternoon, the City of Parksville said that, due to the extent of the damage to the building, “displacement of residents is expected to be long-term.”

In the short-term, Daman said, the volunteers are looking to see what they can do for the people to make sure they’re taken care of.

“A lot of these people came out of the building and they didn’t have anything. They had to get out so quick that they weren’t able to grab any of their belongings or anything,” Daman said.

With the interviews, the volunteers are able to create a list of special needs of the residents and the firefighters were able to go back and retrieve some of the items, said Daman.

“We have been able to accommodate a lot of the people who were displaced and retrieve a lot purses, wallets, medication, eye glasses, even some footwear to provide as much as we can,” he said.

A full investigation into the blaze began Monday, July 10, the city stated, and a structural assessment will need to be obtained before residents are allowed back into the building to remove the majority of their personal items.

The fire drew a response from five area fire departments shortly after 9 p.m. as bystanders watched flames engulf the upper floor of the building.

“The entire fourth floor was charged with smoke on arrival, so all our crews were on breathing apparatus when they went inside,” said chief Marc Norris of the Parksville Volunteer Fire Department, which was joined by members of the Qualicum Beach, Errington, Nanoose Bay and Dashwood volunteer departments.

“We brought crews from neighbouring departments to ensure we had enough firefighters on scene to complete the searches and have enough firefighters on air (tanks) up in the building, working to get ahold of the fire.”

One person was rescued from the fourth floor by firefighters, said Norris. A sweep of the building resulted in everybody getting out safely, including all pets, the City of Parksville said in a news release issued Friday.

Resident Reuben Jahn was about to go to bed when he got a call at about 9:20 p.m.

“I wasn’t going to answer the phone, but I am glad I did,” he said. “The landlady told me to get out of the building.”

Police blocked off a portion of Morison Avenue to allow firefighters to access the area. The fire was mostly extinguished and firefighters moved inside the building shortly after 10:30 p.m. to mop up in the roof area, where smoke still billowed.

“Crews currently have a hold on the fire and are working to fully extinguish the fire, which is in the roof area,” Norris said shortly before 11:30 p.m. Thursday. “The crews are working right now in a difficult area in the roof spaces.”

Norris confirmed witness reports that a roofing company had been working to put a new roof on the structure. Jahn told The NEWS he saw people “with torches” working on the roof.”

“At this point we’re suspecting that was probably the source of the fire, though we can’t confirm that,” Norris said from the scene late Thursday night.

Residents in the 35-unit complex, situated between Highway 19 and Morison Avenue, near the McDonald’s restaurant, were not allowed back into the apartment building overnight, Norris said, adding the local emergency program co-ordinator would be “working on getting them places to stay, possessions and all the things they need.”

The City of Parksville has confirmed donations for victims displaced by the fire are being co-ordinated by the Salvation Army. Household items, toiletries and clothing should be dropped off at the Salvation Army thrift store, 192 Island Hwy. W., and donations of furniture should go to its warehouse. Cash donations should be designated as “Ocean Terrace fire victims.”

Salvation Army is also gathering information on billet-type accomodations, from residents who are willing to allow one or two evacuees to stay in a spare bedroom, and/or those willing to take in one or more pets for up to two months. To help or for more info, call Earl Blacklock, manager of community ministries, Salvation Army Parksville, at 250-240-4711.

— With files from Ashley Wadhwani,

Black Press Digital; and Nicholas Pescod, Nanaimo News Bulletin.