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Family displaced by International Plaza fire faces steep fees to reclaim belongings

An investigation into the December fire didn’t come to a definitve conclusion
Paryah Reazei is handed her commendation from District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue chief Brian Hutchinson at a ceremony on Dec. 30. | DNVFRS / Twitter

As smoke spilled out into their apartment building hallway, 12-year-old Paryas Rezaei and her family raced to their neighbours’ doors to warn them of the impending danger.

It took several minutes for the alarm to go off, Paryas said, as the fire grew in the unit across the hall. Now, the displaced family has had to find a new, more-expensive rental while facing thousands of dollars in fees to reclaim belongings in the apartment that the property management company says are contaminated.

An investigation of the International Plaza fire, which sent two people to hospital on Dec. 28, didn’t come to a definitive conclusion.

“We got to the point that our investigators were able to determine location, but due to the amount of fuel load and significant damage we were unable to determine a cause,” said Brian Hutchinson, fire chief for District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.

While investigators weren’t able to discover the cause in this case, Hutchinson said that historically it’s not uncommon for things like smoking materials and overloaded appliances or outlets to start fires.

Most tenants on the first two floors of the building have since been able to return, and North Shore Emergency Management director Emily Dicken said support for people still displaced has been extended to Feb. 15.

“We hope by that time, we’ll be able to support those folks through the remainder of their displacement and into some permanent housing,” she said, adding there have been some good news stories of people finding new places to live on the North Shore or elsewhere.

GoFundMe set up to help transition to new home 

Paryas – who received a fire chief’s commendation for her efforts in the fire – said she’s grateful for the extra support from NSEM, as a lack of permanent residency status limited their access to support from BC Housing. Her family has been able to find a new apartment, that allows her and her seven-year-old brother to keep attending school at Norgate Elementary.

But the rent is $1,000 more per month, she said, and they haven’t been able to access any of their possessions in the unit since the fire.

A letter from management company Capreit, addressed to Paryas’s mother Azadeh Mehrdad, states that damage from the fire created a “significant risk of exposure to hazardous, such as asbestos, which are contained in the debris created by the fire. The hazardous materials have contaminated your possessions.”

Capreit said it would cover costs to clean five items. Beyond that, tenants’ insurance may cover the cleaning; tenants could pay the restoration company directly for the work; or the possessions would be discarded.

A bill from On Side Restoration puts the cost to clean the family’s possessions at $2,983.

While they have found a new place to live, without any furniture, Paryas said they return to the hotel each night to sleep.

“It’s easier for us because we don’t have any furniture there,” she said. “Like nothing, so at night we can at least come sleep here because there’s stuff.”

Paryas’s family, along with three other tenants from the building, have written to Capreit asking if they can return when the restoration work is complete. In a statement, the company said that it’s too early to provide a timeline for when the work will be complete. Capreit hasn’t said if tenants displaced for a longer term would have the choice to return.

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe has been set up to support Paryas, her parents and her brother, to help cover the expenses of transitioning to a new home.

“I just felt that they had lost everything,” said organizer Mary McNaughton, whose husband knows the family. “And they put everybody’s life before theirs.”

“They could have picked up some of their stuff or whatever,” she continued, but they went door to door instead. “And I think the husband tried to go back in to see if there was anybody left.”

“It just felt to me like they had so much stress of trying to find a new place with two little two young kids, that maybe we could help them out,” McNaughton said.

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