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Nordic fire forces homes to be abandoned

Residential blaze during Fire Prevention Week highlights importance of firefighting teamwork



It's a credit to local firefighters, said Fire Chief Rob Whitton, that damage to a Nordic condo building isn't worse in the wake of an afternoon blaze Monday, Oct. 7.

And that may be some comfort to the roughly 15 residents at the eight-unit Eva Lake complex that were evacuated and left scrambling to find a roof over their heads this week.

Though some have lost everything, others escaped relatively unscathed.

"They did a fantastic job of getting in and getting it out," said Whitton of his crews.

The fire comes in the middle of Fire Prevention Week from October 6-12.

If the purpose of the week is for fire services to connect with citizens and provide education and awareness to the dangers of fire, Whistler's fire department put on a live display of its skills and the risks involved with the job this week.

"The crew that went in is well trained and realized that you don't need to use a lot of water to extinguish a lot of fire," said Whitton.

"They were using good technique in making sure they were hitting the fire with minimal amount of water to generate enough steam to 'steam out' the fire."

While crews battled the blaze on the upper floor and attic of the three-storey building, more crews went into the lower units.

There, they used salvage tarps to cover any property and belongings in the event that water did break through. In one unit, firefighters moved a room full of furniture to another room as a precautionary measure.

When Whitton inspected the site Tuesday with a private investigator from the insurance company, he found that four of the lower units have no damage at all, despite the three-hour battle to contain the fire, which may have begun on an upper deck Monday afternoon.

The upper units, however, are not unscathed. One unit in particular has extensive smoke and fire damage.

The renters who live there are Rachel Bailey's neighbours; they've lost everything.

Bailey, who works for the Crystal Lodge, which leases three of the units for staff, learned of the fire from a phone call at work around 4:30 p.m.

When she arrived on scene, smoke was billowing from the building and fire crews were concentrated at the back of the building.

"They were very methodical in what they were doing," she said. "They had a plan. It was very organized and everyone looked very calm and focused, so that was very encouraging."

Whistler immediately answered the call for help on social media.

"They've not really had the best start to their Whistler experience," said Bailey of her neighbours. "But it's pretty cool how genuinely helpful people are being."

A steady trickle of people have been dropping off bags to Crystal's front desk in an effort to help those who have lost their belongings... and their homes.

"The support from the Whistler community has been absolutely awesome," added Bailey.

She hasn't opened any of the donation bags, leaving that to them; it'll be like Christmas, in a way, she said. And Thanksgiving too.

Andrew Banfield, 27, lived in one of the upper units with two roommates. At this point it is not clear what was lost in the fire — clothes, bikes, laptops are all potentially destroyed.

But Banfield, who just moved here a month ago from Australia, said the fire won't send him packing. Asked if he wanted to stay, he said: "Petty much, if I can. If I can find another place and if the hotel will keep me on, I'll stay."

Bailey and Banfield have been staying at the Crystal Lodge, which extended the offer to all the Wedge residents.

Emergency Social Services also helped other residents displaced by the blaze.

It is not clear yet when people will be able to return home.

Barry Burko, of Summit Strata Management, which manages the complex, said if there is a lesson to be learned from this fire, it's that tenants need to get their own insurance. "If they don't have it, they may not have places to stay," said Burko. "It's minimal cost for a condo policy for a tenant."

Bailey has insurance; she's not sure about some of the others. "This is a reality check for some people," she said.

Burko also had high praise for the local fire department.

"The fire department minimized the water damage down below and they were just outstanding," said Burko. "I can't say enough. We thought they were so outstanding, we bought them 15 pizzas."

The fire department has been hosting a number of activities for Fire Prevention Week. Check out the Life Safety House at the playground at Whistler Olympic Plaza all day on Saturday Oct. 12.


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