Residents of an apartment building in Courtenay wound up stranded outside early Saturday after their building caught fire sometime before 5 a.m.
The blaze was contained to one unit on the fourth floor at Pines Apartments at 1055 10th St., thanks in part to the efforts of a pair of tenants who combed the hallways before vacating the premises.
Riel La Boucane and another man checked each floor after hearing the fire alarm. On the fourth floor, La Boucane grabbed an extinguisher when he noticed smoke billowing underneath a door. He and the other tenant entered the suite and saw flames coming from the bedroom.
He opened the door as much as he could and doused the flames he could see, thinking he had extinguished the fire. He then closed the door and continued checking the building to ensure people were outside.
“We have a number of elderly people, some that would have a tough time getting down the stairs,” La Boucane said. “Main concern was making sure people were getting out. While I was getting the flames out there were other people knocking on doors making sure everybody was getting out, because (we) had a sense the fire was going to be more than just a small flame.”
Later, La Boucane returned to the suite that had burned, concerned the female occupant was still inside. When he found the woman outside, she indicated a cigarette caused the fire.
Police, however, said foul play has not been ruled out.
A number of residents were relocated to alternate accommodations due to smoke damage in some of the units.
Bev Muloin, who lives with a roommate in the apartment next door to the one that caught fire, was one of the first people out of the building.
“It’s just an amazing thing that my apartment was still intact,” Muloin said, noting flames were “shooting out” about 10 feet, damaging the roof. “We’re lucky we all got out alive.”
She is thankful a pastor blessed her apartment when she moved in about four years ago.
“It’s just a miracle that I didn’t lose everything that I own. I don’t know how it happened but my apartment was saved,” said Muloin, grateful to businesses that donated clothing during her time of need. She also thanks social services for housing her in a hotel and paying her meals for three days.
A total of 24 firefighters attended the blaze. There were no injuries.
“We had Comox fire department bring their second ladder down to help with the roof work,” Courtenay fire department chief Don Bardonnex said. “Thanks to them and thanks to our crews.”
The fire remains under investigation.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Comox Valley RCMP at (250) 338-1321 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) to remain anonymous.