The improper disposal of fireplace ashes is being blamed for the blaze at The Villas Snowberry complex in the Benchlands area on Sunday evening, Jan. 20.
According to the Whistler Fire Rescue Department, they received the call at 5:45 p.m. Some 40 full-time and volunteer firefighters were called in to handle the fire, which spread from the balcony where hot ashes were placed in a plastic bucket. The bucket caught fire and the fire spread up the walls to the soffits and into the common attic space of the building.
According to Assistant Fire Chief Sheila Kirkwood, some four upper-storey units suffered fire damage, while several other units below were affected by water damage as well.
"There were 12 units in that building and not all were occupied at the time," she said. "There were four we know that relocated to other units, while others moved to stay with friends and family within Whistler. There was one unit that had tourists from Australia, and they got hotel rooms for the night that their trip insurance should cover."
Crews were at the scene until 1:30 a.m., and while the attic and several units were damaged Kirkwood said that crews managed to contain the fire for the most part.
"The fire damage was contained to the upper level four units with fairly extensive damage to the attic and roof areas for those units and the water and smoke damage on the lower levels below," she said. "Crews really did a good job containing the fire in the common attic space, otherwise the damage would have been quite extensive to the block."
One of the units most heavily damaged was the one where the ashes were place outside on the balcony. Kirkwood reminded people to handle ashes carefully.
"If you're going to clean the fireplace ashes out then use a metal bucket with a lid - and even then ashes should only be deposited when they're cold. And do not place the bucket on a combustible surface."