By Pamela Roth and Kendra Wong
Lorraine Goulden’s eyes filled with tears as she stood outside in the middle of the night, watching flames consume her friend’s motorhome in the West Bay Marine Village in Esquimalt.
The senior was on her computer around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday when she noticed flames at least 20 feet high coming from the motorhome across the street, followed by a series of explosions.
“I thought we were being shot at,” said Goulden. “Everything was blowing up.”
Goulden woke her husband and rushed outside where she found a small crowd of onlookers watching the flames burn the motorhome and touch the walls of neighbouring RVs.
Firefighters arrived in the tightly packed RV park around 2 a.m. to find the motorhome fully engulfed in flames. A large 36-foot fifth wheel trailer was also partially on fire.
It took crews about 30 minutes to get the blaze under control. Everyone managed to escape unharmed, but a cat is still missing.
Steve Serbic, assistant fire chief for Esquimalt, is still adding up the cost of the extensive damage and trying to determine what sparked the blaze. The fire could have been a lot worse, he said, but firefighters recently conducted training exercises in the RV park.
“They pulled right up and knew exactly what to do,” said Serbic. “Motorhomes tend to burn rapidly and very quickly and they spread very quickly. Those guys knew exactly how to cut it off and save the ones that weren’t involved yet.”
Later Tuesday morning, Pamela and her husband Jim Smith received hugs from several neighbours offering condolences about the loss of their seasonal home for the past eight years.
After five months of living in Esquimalt, the couple were scheduled to head back to their Saskatoon home on Friday, but are now tasked with combing through the rubble of their charred RV to salvage any valuables they can find.
Jim was sound asleep when he heard the smoke detector go off and discovered the motorhome was full of smoke. He managed to grab his wallet, cell phone, glasses and enough clothes for a few days before running outside.
“I feel very lucky,” he said, adding the incident has left him shaken.
The community continues to rally behind dozens of long-term tenants that were displaced by another fire at the Traveller’s Inn on Blanshard Street last week.
The Salvation Army and Our Place Society are offering temporary housing for victims. Maj. Brian Slous, executive director of the Salvation Army’s addiction and rehabilitation centre, said 18 individuals are being housed and fed at the centre on Johnson Street.
“It’s a very difficult situation for them. We’re going to do everything that we can to expedite them into the system, but at the same time, won’t be seeing them out on the street either,” Slous said. “We are hoping more permanent solutions or permanent transitional solutions can be afforded.”
If victims are still in need of shelter at the end of the month, Slous said they will be welcome to stay with the potential of turning the centre’s first floor group lodging into dorms and rooms.
The United Way Greater Victoria has also provided $10,000 in funding to the Canadian Red Cross to help with basic needs such as shelter, food, assistance linking to local resources, information, clothing and household items.
The fire ripped through the three-storey building around midnight on March 21. The cause is still under investigation.