LeVonne Strang says it was luck that she was walking her dog at 12:30 a.m. Saturday when she saw the first small flicker of flame in the window of the Good Neighbours Thrift Store.
According to the North Cowichan woman, within moments of seeing flames, the fire spread.
“So immediately I phoned 911 and said, ‘Get over here, get over here. The fire’s gonna blow.’ Because it was already. It went that quick,” Strang told CHEK News Monday.
Fire crews from four stations responded to the building on North Cowichan’s York Road and ushered people living on the building’s top floor to safety as neighbours from surrounding buildings came running.
“I was in bed sleeping at 1 o’clock in the morning when I heard all the sirens coming down the highway,” said neighbour Richard Punner.
“North Cowichan sent apparatus from all four of its stations here, including two aerial units. So they suppressed the fire over a course of close to 11 hours,” said North Cowichan Asst. Fire Chief Jason DeJong.
The blaze is being treated as a suspected arson.
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On Monday, fire and RCMP investigators sifted through what remained of the longtime store and focused their attention on its front window, where investigators could be seen pulling canisters from the rubble.
“We’re focusing our attention on the middle part of Good Neighbours, yeah,” said DeJong.
“It’s just getting scary,” said Punner.
Four fires Saturday
Fire crews responded to four fires in Duncan/North Cowichan within hours apart Saturday.
According to Island District RCMP, two car fires appear unconnected to the thrift store fire, and investigators haven’t established a link between a fire set in a hedge at the same time as the Good Neighbours Fire, just a block away.
“So the rest of that investigation part will be through the RCMP,” said DeJong.
Strang is glad she saw the fire when she did and could call for help. But the North Cowichan woman said she would miss the Good Neighbours store she had worked at for 12 years.
“Lots of people loved it there. It didn’t matter if they were young or old, rich or poor,” said Strang.
Anyone with information on this suspicious fire is urged to contact Duncan/North Cowichan RCMP.