Monica Odenwald left her house on Third Avenue to pick up her daughter from a dance class at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8. Twenty minutes later, she returned to find her house on fire.
“I lived there for 10 years and raised my kids there as a single parent,” the Port Alberni woman said, standing on the boulevard that dissects Third Avenue near Bruce Street and watching firefighters attack the fire from multiple angles.
“I was picking up my daughter from dance…everything seemed fine.”
Port Alberni Fire Department Chief Mike Owens said the two-storey house was already fully involved when crews arrived shortly after receiving a call at 8:48 p.m.
“When we arrived on scene there was heavy fire and smoke already,” Owens said. “Our crews went to work right away trying to suppress the fire and contain it to the building of origin.”
There was some concern that the fire might spread to the house immediately south of Odenwald’s because it is so close. “We were successful in preventing the fire from spreading to that house,” he said.
“It’s a stubborn, entrenched fire right now.” Crews had the ladder up and were trying to get some different vantage points to suppress the flames that were still burning through the roof more than an hour after firefighters arrived on scene.
Neighbours and people who had seen the fire and called 911 lined the sidewalk across from the house. “I used to live in that house in Grade 5,” said Aaron Franks. He and his mother and two younger brothers spent a year living in the house. He pointed to a window where flames could still be seen: “That used to be my bedroom,” he said.
Selena Garcia lives on Fourth Avenue but saw the flames and thought the house immediately behind her was on fire. Garcia and other neighbours were concerned for Odenwald’s three cats, who hadn’t been seen since the fire broke out.
“I just hope my cats are OK,” Odenwald said. “If anyone around this neighbourhood around Bruce Street has seen my little black, fluffy cat, or my big grey fluffy cat, or my tabby cat, I hope they made it out the back.”
She asked if anyone spots her cats to call the Alberni-Clayoquot branch of the SPCA (250-723-5269).
Odenwald lost her job last October and had recently started a new one, working from home. “Hopefully I find a place to work from,” she said. She was waiting for someone from emergency services to come and talk to her about a place to stay for the night. One of her neighbours brought a blanket for her to put over her hoodie, so she would stay warm.
“I’m not sure of the cause of the fire…it’s an older house, built in 1955. It’s been a good house. A lot of memories there. But nothing left of it.”