‘Nothing but smoke’: More than 50 people displaced following fire at Nanaimo supportive housing facility

'Nothing but smoke': More than 50 people displaced following fire at Nanaimo supportive housing facility
CHEK

A support worker in Nanaimo says close to 60 people are displaced following a fire that damaged a supportive housing facility early Sunday morning.

“I believe we have 57 that were affected by the fire,” said Corrie Corfield with Island Crisis Care Society (ICCS).

Crews were called to Samaritan Place on Nicol Street around 6 a.m. Sunday to find heavy smoke spewing from the third floor of the four-storey building, according to Troy Libbus, assistant fire chief with Nanaimo Fire Rescue.

The facility, which opened in 2022, has more than 50 self-contained units geared to the community’s homeless population. Staff are on-site 24/7.

Libbus says a cigarette sparked the blaze, which resulted in no injuries.

“A gentleman came forward from one of the units on the third floor and he reported right away that it was due to smoking. The cigarette went on his mattress, which caught the mattress on fire,” he told CHEK News on scene.

The building is non-smoking, and Libbus says investigators “have confirmed (the fire) was due to smoking.”

READ PREVIOUS FROM 2022: Over 50 self-contained supportive homes set to open for homeless in Nanaimo

Dereck Paul lives there and recalls walking up to the alarm. He and his wife tried to ride the elevator, but it was out of service, so they had to take the stairs.

“When we woke up at 5:30, the alarm was going off. When we got to the third floor, there was nothing but smoke,” he said.

“We couldn’t even see five feet in front of us.”

The assistant fire chief says the building’s sprinkler system helped to quickly mitigate the flames, but other floors have water damage as a result.

“Really grateful that the sprinkler system did its job,” said Libbus.

“There’s quite a bit of water damage on the third floor and it’s gone down to the remaining floors, which has displaced a lot of people,” he said.

“Plus, we have the residue of the smoke. A restoration company is in here trying to rectify the situation so they can get up and running again.”

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A team from Emergency Support Services (ESS) is helping those displaced.

“We brought in a couple buses to get them out of the weather right away. ESS arranged for them to go to Bowen Park, where they are registered and they stay safe and get all the necessary medications and all their needs,” said Libbus.

“We have another coordinator organizing where they’ll spend the night tonight.”

Corfield says staff at the society have been working “on the fly” since the fire.

“We were able to move people to other ICCS programs that had some space available at the moment, so we’ve moved people as much as we can,” she said.

“We have a few people that we will have living in hotels for a few days.”

Now Libbus is urging people to always evacuate a building when they hear the fire alarm going off and to follow the direction of fire crews.

“It is so important. It saves lives. We were lucky in this case everyone evacuated the building,” he added.

“We had no injuries, so we’re very grateful for that.”

The building’s power still needs to be restored and its fire suppression system fixed, but ICCS hopes that with some clean-up, most of the residents will be able to return to live there ideally by Monday or within days.

-with files from CHEK’s Kendall Hanson

Samaritan Place on Nicol Street is pictured on Sunday, June 16, 2024.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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