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Dozens of seniors displaced by fatal North Van fire moving home

Twenty-eight residents from 20 apartments won't be allowed back in anytime soon
Silverlynn Fire web
Smoke pours from North Vancouver's Silverlynn Apartments in the early morning of Tuesday, May 31.

More than half of the seniors put out of their homes following the fatal fire at Silverlynn Apartments have returned home, according to North Shore Emergency Management.

One person died in the fire Tuesday (May 31) and the residents of the remaining units had to be evacuated from the subsidized housing complex on East 27th Street, near the Lynn Valley town centre.

As of Thursday, 28 residents from 20 of the apartments were still being routed to alternate accommodations, but the rest had returned home.

“We're still right in the throes of the immediate response only because accommodation on the North Shore is obviously extremely challenging,” said Emily Dicken, NSEM director. “It's going to be a fair number of weeks before anybody goes back into the impacted space of the building, if not months.”

As of Friday, the fire remains a police investigation until the North Vancouver RCMP have ruled out criminality, and there has been no update as to the official cause. The person killed in the fire has not yet been identified.

There has been a lot of community interest in helping residents impacted by the blaze but Dicken said NSEM is still sorting out the details of how best to do that.

“Those directly impacted by the fire are still being supported through Emergency Support Services, and all of their needs right now are being met,” she said. “But the long-term recovery will require extensive support from the community. Over the coming weeks, we'll know better what avenues for that support look like.”

What they don’t need right now is people trying to drop off donated goods, she said.

“The best support that people can provide is to donate money, and really allow that sense of return to home in a way that's really supportive for how people want to rebuild their lives,” she said, adding that once an appropriate donation method has been set up, they will alert the community.

Fire response praised

Silverlynn resident Peter Phelan said he heard the fire alarm going off but assumed it was a false alarm, since it goes off frequently. When firefighters showed up at his door, he knew it was the real thing.

“It was fantastic the way the different groups worked – the fire department, the police and [North Shore Emergency Management],” he said.

Residents were escorted to the Westlynn Baptist Church, next door, while NSEM members brought them food and started calling hotels to get the evacuated residents booked in.

Renoviction worries

Residents had been complaining for years that the building was in bad shape and rotting. Work was set to begin imminently on renovations. Phelan said he worries those long-delayed repairs may be put off because of the fire.

“I just hope people totally don't forget about this place. There's some very nice people here and, to me, they're treated terribly,” he said.

Although, he added, there is even more anxiety from residents that they’ll be put out again once the substantial work begins.

“There hasn't been one word from this place to anybody about what may happen.  We're going to be tremendously inconvenienced here. I understand that it’s not a first-class hotel,” he said. “They're going to replace the building almost. Where are the people going to go?”

BC Housing, which is funding the repairs, issued a statement following the fire.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life. Our thoughts are with their loved ones, with the other residents of Silverlynn Apartments, and with the front-line staff members and first responders who have worked hard to support all involved,” it read. "BC Housing is aware that residents have previously expressed concerns about the overall condition of Silverlynn Apartments. We have been working with the building owner and operator, Lowland Senior Citizens' Housing Society, to address the issues.…  The Lowland Senior Citizens' Housing Society is undertaking those repairs in accordance with BC Housing’s guidelines.”

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