Heavy smoke took over an hour to extinguish after a fire ripped through an Esquimalt apartment building Sunday afternoon. (Keri Coles/News staff)

Heavy smoke took over an hour to extinguish after a fire ripped through an Esquimalt apartment building Sunday afternoon. (Keri Coles/News staff)

Esquimalt apartment fire caused by human error

The fatal fire started in the victim’s unit

The exact cause of Sunday’s fatal fire on Craigflower Road is still under investigation, but the Esquimalt Fire Department has determined it was not set intentionally.

“It does appear to be accidental, some kind of human activity that caused the fire,” said Fire Chief Chris Jancowski, who noted that final details will be coming out in a report. “It started in a fourth floor unit in the north-east corner.”

This was the same unit where the only victim, Judith Rose Burke, lived. Burke was seen trapped on her balcony as neighbours tried to coax her down by holding blankets, but the attempt was unsuccessful.

ALSO READ: One woman confirmed dead following Esquimalt fire

“In this case, the fire developed quite well inside the unit before flames were seen outside,” Jancowski said. “The amount of build up really prevented people from leaving from the fourth floor, forcing them onto the balcony.”

The Esquimalt Fire Department, CFB Esquimalt Fire Department, the Victoria Fire Department and the View Royal Fire Rescue attended the scene, using ladder rescue techniques to assist the rest of the people trapped on the balconies.

Some people received minor cuts on their wrists and legs from the ladders, and one firefighter from the Esquimalt Fire Department sustained a shoulder injury.

Most of the building was not burned.

“Most of the fire damage was confined to that unit and hallway, with water damage affecting the first, second and third floor,” Jancowski said.

ALSO READ: Fund launched for victims of fatal Esquimalt apartment fire

Jancowski said that a major problem with the building was that it had no fire sprinklers installed.

“Buildings of that vintage, from the 1960s and ‘70s, didn’t have sprinklers because it wasn’t part of the building code,” Jancowski explained. “Luckily, it did have a fire alarm system that worked very well.”

Currently, Belmont Properties is assessing the extent of the damage. Tenants are not able to return to their units at this time.

After the fire was controlled, firefighters entered the building to retrieve vital medications. Firefighters also searched units for pets and found several fish and cats who were unharmed and okay to stay in the units at the time. Firefighters fed the pets and took note of their locations.

Building residents will likely be able to re-enter the building on Friday or Saturday to retrieve possessions. It’s unknown if or when they will be able to return to live in their units.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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