UPDATE: Massive fire destroys Burnaby apartment complex

A fire destroyed a Burnaby apartment building at 3526 Smith Ave. near Canada Way early Sunday, leaving the residents of all 34 units homeless.

Fire crews arrived at about 12:30 a.m. to find a dramatic scene, with fire engulfing a rear portion of the building and multiple tenants hanging out their windows in hopes of rescue, said Rick Weir, acting assistant chief with Burnaby Fire Department.

Immediately, ladders were deployed and two more firehalls were called to the scene, he said.

Ultimately, there were no serious injuries apart from smoke inhalation, Weir said Monday. Numerous people were taken to hospital for observation.

All the residents have been accounted for but numerous pets in the pet-friendly building were killed, he said. "I talked to a fellow, he had three cats and they perished.

"Apparently there was quite a few pets lost in the building but along with how many were lost there was probably more than that many saved. We brought down multiple, multiple large dogs from the third floor suites, second floor suites, all throughout the building."

Fire crews were still at the scene late Sunday, where they were hosing off the still-smouldering building, while an excavator was dismantling the back half of it.

"This is basically a mop-up," said Weir. "We had a total collapse at the back and it's continuing to burn."

An acrid stench hung over the neighbourhood as many nearby residents came out to watch.

"There were no firefighter injuries, just a whole lot of tired people. They worked extremely hard, they did an unbelievably great job."

By Monday, a structural engineer had deemed the building unsafe, limiting the ability of fire investigators to determine the cause of the blaze, Weir said.

Burnaby RCMP have deemed the fire suspicious, but that simply means the cause has yet to be determined, he noted.

The rental building, located next to Avondale Park and not far from Cascade Heights Elementary, is a 1961 wood-frame structure, and had no sprinkler system—common for that era.

This was the second fire at the building in three years. In 2009, a 60-year-old woman died and an eight-year-old boy received severe burns when a serious fire occurred there. While it was deemed suspicious, investigators at the time said they found no evidence the fire had been intentionally set.

Residents without a place to stay as a result of Sunday's fire are being housed at a local hotel, courtesy of the City of Burnaby's Emergency Social Services—which automatically provides up to 72 hours of housing in the case of a disaster.

Donations of household items and money to the fire victims are being coordinated by  the Salvation Army Metrotown, 6125 Nelson Ave., Burnaby. For information call 604-437-1521.

The 26,000-square-foot building was listed for sale at the time of the fire, for $7 million.

~ with files from Wanda Chow


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