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Watch: North Vancouver apartment fire displaces about 70 residents

Neighbours saw flames coming through the roof of the older three-storey building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Approximately 70 people are out of their homes just 10 days before Christmas after fire tore through an older three-storey apartment building in the City of North Vancouver Tuesday morning.

Fire crews from multiple fire departments on the North Shore raced to the scene at 260 12th Street East after fire alarms went off in the 64-unit apartment building in the central Lonsdale area between St. Georges and St. Andrews.

“We had smoke and fire coming from all three floors on the back side of the building,” said City of North Vancouver Fire Chief Greg Schalk. “Fire did actually extend into the attic space and through the roof. So it was a significant fire.”

Nobody was injured in the fire, but all building residents were evacuated, and the damage to certain parts of the building is extensive, he said.

Fire started on first floor

Based on initial reports, firefighters believe the blaze started on the first floor of the building and spread to the second and third floors and into the attic, said Schalk.

Schalk said it’s too early to say what caused the fire, but it’s most likely to have been accidental.

The 56-year-old apartment building had functioning fire alarms, but no sprinkler system as its construction pre-dated that requirement in the building code.

Cheyenne Hohensinn lives opposite the apartment building that caught on fire. He said he and his wife were woken by sirens and the arrival of fire trucks around 6 a.m.

Flames came through roof

Hohensinn said he could see flames coming through the roof and shooting about 15 feet in the air. “It was definitely coming out the windows,” he said. Fire trucks parked on the north side of the building sprayed the fire with water while other firefighters appeared to attack it from above, he said.

Hohensinn said he saw residents fleeing the burning building carrying everything from pets in carriers to cherished possessions. “One lady had her wedding dress,” he said.

Apartment residents given emergency help

The fire was out by mid-morning, and between 50 to 70 residents were taken to a reception centre nearby at the offices of North Shore Emergency Management on 14th Street where they were being provided with necessities like clothing, and set up with hotel rooms for 72 hours.

“It was a very early morning fire,” said Emily Dicken, director of North Shore Emergency Management. “A lot of people have been displaced in their pyjamas.”

A few residents were able to bring their pet cats to the centre.

Firefighters were checking for other pets that may have been left behind in order to reunite them with their owners.

They were also working with residents to allow them to go and retrieve essentials including medication, keys, wallets and important papers from the building.

Fire crews were to meet with building owners, insurers and restoration crews to determine next steps.

It’s not known how many of the tenants had insurance.

Some people may face longer-term displacement

Schalk said it’s possible some parts of the building that weren’t damaged will only be impacted for a short period of time, while other units may be more seriously damaged.

In cases where people are going to be displaced for a longer term, emergency management will work with BC Housing to try to find suitable accommodation for those residents – often not an easy job.

Dicken said mental health supports are also being made available to the displaced residents.

“It’s a hard experience for people to go through, she said.

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