A woman in her 60s succumbed to her injuries caused by a large, fast-moving apartment fire on Countess Street in Abbotsford in the early hours of Thursday.
The blaze was called in to emergency services at around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, with crews battling the blaze well into Thursday morning.
“When the guys arrived on scene, they found fire extending through the roof, through the units, as well as a number of people on their balconies, so they initially deployed lines to control the fire while they rescued people off the balcony,” assistant fire chief Jeff Snider said at a media availability at Fire Hall #1 Thursday morning.
“[It was] very complicated. Difficult conditions, icy, third-floor, a lot of people that haven’t been on ladders before, and now you’re taking them out in the middle of the night in fire conditions in the ice, so very difficult. Very challenging; guys did a good job.”
Snider said the majority of the eight people stranded on balconies were on the third floor, as that was where the major smoke hazard from the fire was. Crews then searched inside the building and found four more individuals needing assistance evacuating the blaze.
“There was a lot of smoke and definitely extensive fire within those central units,” Snider said of entering the building, adding that “it’s never safe” for firefighters entering a burning building.
“We make it as safe as we can, considering the circumstances. It’s a risk/benefit management that we do, and we decided that it was worth the risk to get in there and stop [the fire] on the interior side.”
Three tenants went to hospital in the first 10 minutes of the fire response with minor injuries and smoke inhalation.
Tragically, upon entering on a secondary search, an elderly woman was found in her unit to be suffering serious injuries and died after paramedics attended to her.
Fire crews were expected to be on scene for much of Thursday, searching for hot spots to extinguish and assisting the B.C. Coroners Service, fire inspector and Abbotsford Police Department investigations.
B.C. Coroners spokesperson Andy Watson said the investigation is still in “very early stages.”
Snider said there was “pretty extensive” damage to the third floor of the 2400-block Countess Street apartment building, along with smoke and water damage on lower floors. He couldn’t comment on the fire protection in the building, such as fire alarms, but noted that the older building had been recently renovated.
Snider said Emergency Support Services was activated for residents of the building, and would likely run for at least a few days, offering shelter and necessities. He said it would likely be days before any residents would be able to return home.