Fatal Esquimalt fire raises safety concerns about thousands of other buildings

Fatal Esquimalt fire raises safety concerns about thousands of other buildings

WATCH: A deadly Esquimalt fire is raising some serious safety questions. And as Tess van Straaten tells us, thousands of other buildings in B.C. could also be at risk.

A burnt-out chair sits in front of an Esquimalt apartment building Tuesday morning — just a small piece of the damage after a deadly fire.

The raging inferno spread so fast on Sunday afternoon, residents were trapped on their balconies.

“We were screaming jump, jump, jump!” one witness told CHEK News.

But 60-year-old Judith Burke, who was stuck on her 4th floor balcony wouldn’t jump and was overcome by flames.

In the wake of her tragic death, there are growing questions about why the four-story building didn’t have sprinklers.

“Due to the age of the building, those types of buildings — three and four storey walk-ups — typically weren’t required under the fire code and building code at the time to have sprinklers,” explains Chief Chris Jancowski of the Esquimalt Fire Department.

The B.C. Building Code was changed in the 1990s to make sprinklers mandatory in multi-family residential buildings four storeys or higher.

But fire officials say older buildings without sprinklers present a big challenge when it comes to fire suppression.

“It’s extremely concerning to learn there aren’t sprinklers in buildings like this,” says Emily Rogers of the Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS).

Housing advocates are now wondering why there’s a double standard when it comes to safety.

“The residential tenancy act says units need to be maintained to the health and safety standards required by law,” Rogers says. “If there aren’t any laws in place to mandate a certain level of care, there’s nothing to be held accountable to.”

It’s not just rentals that could at risk.

There are also thousands of condo buildings in British Columbia that didn’t require sprinklers when they were built and are grandfathered under the old code.

Retrofitting old buildings with sprinklers could be very costly.

But experts say it could also save lives.

“Fire prevention measures are an essential element of safety and everyone deserves a safe place to call home,” Rogers says.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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