A smouldering chair is responsible for a dramatic fire that gutted one north-end house and severely damaged another early Saturday.
There were no major injuries despite the early hour of the fire, as neighbours and two passing taxi drivers stopped to ensure the occupants and animals in both houses got out safely.
Eight fire trucks responded to the blaze in the 4600 block of Hammond Bay Road just after 2:30 a.m. The fire took the roofs off both houses and gutted the first house.
Four male tenants with no fire insurance occupied the first house. A young couple with insurance owns the second house.
Ennis Mond, fire investigator with Nanaimo Fire Rescue, said an upholstered chair that was next to the fence in the backyard of the first house caught fire, which ignited the fence and spread to the wall and roof of the first house.
The heat from the fire ignited the second shortly afterward.
“Something was thrown into the chair, more than likely a cigar butt,” said Mond.
Neighbour Eric Mills saw the chair smouldering in the backyard earlier in the evening and yelled at the tenants to put it out.
“They pretty much didn’t take it too seriously,” he said. “One guy urinated on it. A couple hours later … I woke up because I heard crackling.”
Tyler Wintoneak, who lives in the suite below Mills, was filming the blaze when he noticed two dogs running around in the backyard.
There was nowhere for the dogs to escape the fire and no fire trucks on scene yet, so he got his shoes and went out to rescue them.
Wintoneak was able to pick one up and toss it over the fence, but had to kick down a panel of the fence to get the second dog – a Great Dane – out of harm’s way.
“I was just frightened that a propane tank or something was going to explode,” he said.
Morgan Schule, who just moved into the downstairs suite of a house several doors down from the fire scene, was awoken around 3 a.m. Saturday by someone banging on the door. She went outside to an apocalyptic scene.
“There was just smoke and balls of fire everywhere,” said Schule, adding that she couldn’t tell which house was on fire because of all the smoke.
Brett Denby, a driver with AC Taxi, stopped his cab when he saw the fire.
He told his passengers to call 911, then jumped out and pounded on the door of the second house, which was just starting to catch fire, while one of his passengers pounded on the door of the first house.
Denby said minutes after he woke the couple in the second house, the fire was going strong.
By then, a tenant from the first house was yelling that there was still one person inside.
Denby saw a second cab pull up and three men jumped out to help get the remaining tenant to safety.
“They went in the house and got him out,” he said. “Two minutes later, he would have been dead.”
Mond said two people were taken to hospital and treated for smoke inhalation, then released.
Mond said the major property loss could have been prevented if someone had called about the smouldering chair.
“Somebody there should have called the fire department, but that’s 20/20 hindsight now,” said Mond. “It’s an accidental fire.”