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West Vancouver fire puts Eagle Harbour family out of their home

Community rallies around renters who lost everything

Five people including a young family of renters have been burned out of their homes following a devastating fire in Eagle Harbour Feb. 25.

Kevin Batal said they could hear a rumbling sound from upstairs of their Telegraph Trail apartment around 6:45 p.m. Before they knew what it was, their landlord was calling out to them, urging them to get outside.

“We looked behind us and the top half of the house was already in flames and then the windows started shattering about a minute later,” he said.

West Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services members were on their way but by then, the second floor had already been badly damaged.

“The crew saw the flames from quite a distance driving in at Marine Drive,” said assistant chief Matt Furlot, adding they called in more resources.

Once they had determined everyone was safely out of the building, firefighters focused their attention to the blaze. By that time, they had no choice but to attack it from the outside.

A neighbour invited Batal’s wife and two children, a six-year-old son and nine-month-old daughter, to come inside. Batal and his landlord could only stand and watch as crews worked to stop the spread.

“It was challenging to put out completely,” Furlot said. “We were there until pretty much midnight working on hotspots and it was all exterior because we weren’t going to put our crews in danger.”

It’s been a harrowing ordeal for Batal’s family. They did not have renters insurance and are now scrambling to put things back together. Luckily for them, neighbours have come to their aid.

“I’m trying,” Batal said. “The community has raised our spirits unbelievably and we’re so grateful to them. Actually, if it wasn’t for them standing by us, I honestly would be very terrible right now.”

Batal, who was born in Canada but spent much of his young adult years in Lebanon, moved to Eagle Harbour with his Syrian-born wife four and a half years ago. Since then, they’ve been embraced by the community, which is now collecting donations to help them get back on their feet.

A GoFundMe campaign set up by neighbour Lisa Leeson quickly surpassed its $5,000 goal, and reached $13,655 in just two days.

“Isn’t it amazing,” she said. “The Eagle Harbour community, the Gleneagles community and the Caulfeild community have, just as the caring communities they are, wanted to help.”

In the short term, another neighbour has allowed the Batals to stay in a home that will soon be demolished for redevelopment. But they now face the daunting task of finding something else they can afford over the longer term on Kevin’s IT administrator salary, especially in the same community that has made them feel so at home.

“I won’t be able to rest, honestly, until I find permanent housing,” he said. “It was our home, right? It was a roof over our head. We are looking and the prices are really high. It’s hard to leave the North Shore.”

Beyond the donations of money, clothing and housewares, Leeson said anyone who may be able to offer suitable accommodations to the Batals should step forward.

“We want to support them being able to stay here,” she said.

Furlot said he was pleased the landlord’s first concern was making sure his tenants were safe.

“They all got out of the building right away. I thought that was really great that they took care of each other,” he said. “If you have a suite and there is a fire or emergency that you need to evacuate the building, take care of your neighbours. Make sure that everyone’s been notified and everyone’s accounted for.”

West Vancouver fire prevention officer Jeremy Calder said the cause of the fire is still under investigation, although they are looking mainly at an upstairs fireplace.

“If the owner, when they had exited, had closed the exterior doors, or had an extinguisher, they could have minimized the rapid growth of the fire,” he said.