‘Complicated’ Victoria condo fire leaves seniors homeless

What Victoria firefighters initially believed to be a simple fire soon turned into a much bigger problem

Linda Miller holds Princess

Linda Miller holds Princess

It could be months before any of the 70 residents of a Rockland condominium can return home, after a fire Monday.

While only a quarter of the units were damaged, all might be subject to asbestos contamination. Early next week, an air quality assessment will determine whether the 1976 building contained asbestos.

If so, nobody will be able to move in for months, said Capt. Steve Meikle, an inspector with the Victoria Fire Department.

The results are expected next week.

Most of the residents are elderly, with many in their 80s and 90s. About half are staying with friends or relatives, and the other half are in hotels.

The fire ignited Jan. 17, when a plumber’s torch ignited insulation behind the wall on the fourth floor at 1149 Rockland Ave.

What firefighters initially believed to be a simple case soon turned into a much bigger problem.

“At first they thought they had it out,” said Meikle. When units on lower floors began filling with smoke, the crews knew this wasn’t the case.

While fire normally travels upwards, this fire followed the plumbing pipes down to the first floor, then across the hallway, then up the other side, said Meikle.

A lack of fire separation materials let it spread out of sight, with no open flames.

Equipped with thermal imaging cameras, 33 firefighters tracked the fire and tore down walls in the hallways and bathrooms with axes, pry bars and chainsaws.

Residents were evacuated to the Fairfield Activity Centre, where volunteers from Victoria’s Emergency Management Agency helped out, along with members from the Saanich and Oak Bay programs. The volunteers provided food and drink and co-ordinated shelter.

The damage to the building is still being calculated by insurance adjustors.