Doris Arndt returned to see the damage to her Nanaimo apartment for the first time on Monday after a suspicious fire forced the 74-year-old and her 19 neighbours out into the street.
“It was horrible. It was just absolutely horrible,” Arndt told CHEK News. “I’ve never gone through anything like that in my life.”
The senior’s second-floor suite had been her home since 1993, but on Saturday morning that all changed.
“Oh, and I loved that place. My Dad bought it for me before he passed away,” she said.
But now it’s destroyed. All of her belongings burned and lost in a fire that Nanaimo Fire Rescue told CHEK News originated in a dumpster behind the building and quickly spread to apartments.
“A dumpster fire at the back of the unit here,” Fire Chief Tim Doyle of Nanaimo Fire Rescue told CHEK News on scene Saturday.
Doyle added that when crews arrived, the flames had already spread.
“The fire had actually extended up the building,” said Doyle.
“I can’t believe that. Why would somebody do that? I wish they’d find out who it was,” said Arndt.
Nanaimo RCMP and fire officials are still investigating what started the blaze in the dumpster and aren’t commenting further. But residents told CHEK News that two people were seen running from the scene just before the fire.
“I heard commotion. I heard something, so I came out and stood over my patio and said, ‘What are you doing? Who are you here to visit?’ And she just ran,” recalled displaced resident Lisa Briscoe.
“So that’s when I said, ‘Oh, something’s up,’ and then all of a sudden I’m hearing screaming and yelling and then the alarm went off and off we went.”
According to residents, problems with drug users and homeless people leaving garbage in the parking lot and setting fires have been an ongoing problem for months, and there has been a rash of incidents recently.
“Yeah, the intel that we have from community members put somebody that is known for setting fires at the scene the other day,” said Collen Middleton, president of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association.
Arndt is now one of several scrambling to find a new place to live because the damage to her home is expected to take at least a year to repair. Fortunately, she is insured.
Yet she doesn’t want to leave the downtown neighbourhood she loves and hopes to return to her Prideaux Street apartment, however long it takes.