A crowd of people stood in disbelief, and still in their pyjamas, outside their Nanaimo apartment building at 650 Prideaux St. Saturday morning after their apartment building caught fire.
Many were carrying their pets in hand, but nothing else, after a suspicious fire sent them running from their homes at 7 a.m.
“I thought it was raining because I heard crackle, crackle,” said displaced resident Tammy Bell. “Oh my God. It’s still surreal, like so surreal.”
Nanaimo Fire Rescue Chief Tim Doyle says 15 units were impacted by the fire, leaving 20 people displaced.
The fire department says the suspicious fire was sparked in a dumpster behind the building and quickly spread to apartments.
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“It made me sick, and I came out in tears this morning thinking about cats and all the people and their stuff. Just horrible,” said displaced resident Lisa Brisco.
“Somebody apparently was walking by and saw the smoke and broke the front door open and went and hit all the buzzers,” said neighbour Phoenix Bond.
“There was a lot of yelling outside, people screaming ‘get out of the building,’ and yeah we grabbed our cat and got out as quick as we could,” said resident Thomas Cosh.
The fire could be seen for kilometres around Nanaimo, as smoke billowed from the scene. According to Nanaimo Fire Rescue, when crews first arrived flames were shooting from a dumpster and spread to the building where many tenants were still asleep inside.
“The residents are definitely unsettled from the incident, but the crews did a good job to get the fire out quickly so it didn’t damage more of the building,” said Doyle.
The apartment that suffered the most damage is Tammy Bell’s. The Nanaimo woman told CHEK News that she awoke to crackling, then her husband yelling fire.
“And I got up and within three minutes the whole patio was engulfed in flames. Obviously it started from the recycling, someone set a fire,” said Bell.
Residents told CHEK News that for months homeless people have been setting fires behind the building and drug users are often seen using and leaving garbage in the parking lot. Yet there has been no solution to it.
“It’s just been an ongoing problem for a while,” said Bell.
“We’re paying attention constantly because we have to and now the issue here today was the garbage was set on fire,” said Brisco.
Those forced from their homes have 72 hours of emergency housing or are staying with family and friends, but the damage is so significant that some are expected to be out for months.