North Shore fire crews were called out for three separate house fires on Sunday morning, one of which is being treated as suspicious by North Vancouver RCMP.
A passerby called 911 at around 4 a.m., after noticing smoke and flames coming from an abandoned home on Mount Seymour Parkway, just west of Apex Avenue.
Assistant chief Chris Byrom described the blaze as a “classic flush, surround and drown” to extinguish.
By the time it was out, the roof and second floor of the home had collapsed.
The home on the property has been vacant for years, pending District of North Vancouver council approval for redevelopment.
“It’s been boarded up for a long time,” Byrom said.
Oftentimes when an abandoned building catches fire, there is evidence of someone seeking shelter there, frequently with candles, although that doesn’t appear to be the case with this one, Byrom said.
North Vancouver RCMP remained on scene Monday.
“We are investigating. At this point, it’s deemed suspicious,” said Const. Mansoor Sahak, North Vancouver RCMP spokesperson. “There’s no one believed to be inside the residence but, so far, we haven’t been able to do a thorough search because of the structural integrity of the house.”
Sahak said they are hoping anyone from the public who may have seen anything suspicious happening around the house will come forward. Investigators are also seeking any surveillance camera or dashcam footage that may have been captured nearby during the early morning hours.
Real estate agent Gordon Kleaman said redevelopment plans for the property, which included social housing, have been “stalled forever at the district.”
The first owner sold the property at a loss after being unable to get a development before district council for a vote, he said. The new owner is also having difficulties, he added.
“It’s been sitting vacant way too long,” he said.
While district crews were still on the scene, another call came in around 6:15 a.m. from a home on Airlynn Place in the Westlynn neighbourhood.
In that case, the fire was contained to just one room and the homeowner had it quickly doused by the time the trucks arrived. As a precaution, he was taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, Byrom said.
The third fire, which took place on the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw’s (Squamish Nation) Xwemelch’stn community (Capilano 5 reserve), required a dramatic rescue of a woman trapped on the second floor.
Multiple people called 911 when they saw black smoke billowing from the home on Khatsilano Road around 11 a.m., said West Vancouver Fire & Rescue assistant chief Mike Hodges.
“Upon arrival, they were made aware that there was an occupant trapped inside,” he said.
One rescue crew entered the home from the ground while another used a ladder to get in a second-storey window. They brought the resident safely down to the ground and started administering first aid before she was taken to hospital.
Hodges said he was proud of how his members responded and credit goes to the neighbours outside who knew the woman was trapped and where they’d be most likely to find her.
“The crews were amazing. They stayed calm. They took aggressive fast action,” he said. “Incredible day for West Van Fire. Incredible day for the Squamish Nation. That community is really incredible. There’s so much support there.”
The Squamish Nation is now providing emergency services to those affected.
"We want to acknowledge and thank all the community members, firefighters, police officers and medical personnel for quickly responding to this house fire. The sole resident inside at the time was rescued and taken to hospital. We wish them a full and speedy recovery. Two other residents who lived at the home were away when the fire happened. Nation staff are providing all three displaced members with emergency supports – including temporary accommodation, food and clothing – until we can repair their home or find them a new home on Nation lands,” a statement issued Monday read.
As of Monday, the cause of the fire was still undetermined. Because of structural damage, it will likely take some time to get inside and investigate.
In any case, Hodges said the change in weather means more people are turning on their heaters, stoking the fireplace or lighting candles. That means it’s imperative to ensure smoke alarms throughout the home are in working order.