A nighttime house fire in Spruce Grove could have been much worse had it not been for neighbours rallying together to protect their community, said Whistler's fire chief.
Residents poured out of their homes early Monday, Aug. 11, and wasted no time pitching in to help a neighbour out of a burning building and doing what they could to stop the flames from spreading as the fire raged.
"It was drying your eyeballs it was so hot. It's kind of surreal," said neighbour Chris Armstrong, who along with fellow residents, broke a window to alert his neighbour of his burning house.
"Fires are extremely hot, and when you open your door — and I'm 80 feet away — (you) can feel it like (you're) sitting in front of a fire place, it's pretty intense."
Officials are now saying that neighbours in the close-knit community ensured the fire didn't cause more damage than it did.
The fire — which broke out at 7253 Spruce Grove Circle at about 3:30 a.m. — destroyed one house and left three others damaged.
Neigbours sprayed down nearby houses and yards and even assisted one man out of a burning building, Whistler Fire Chief Sheila Kirkwood said in a press release.
"This action very likely saved his life," she said, going on to add that the efforts of neighbours were also "key in limiting the fire spread."
When fire crews arrived on the scene the house was fully engulfed in flames.
"We knew at that time the original house would not be saved," Kirkwood said, in a conference call on Monday afternoon.
Crews then directed most of their attention to the houses on either side.
"The fire had entered in through the windows and in some cases the soffits in the roof space, so we were dealing with two concealed roof fires in both of these houses," Kirkwood said.
With the extreme fire danger rating in place for 14 days, Kirkwood wasted no time in calling for mutual aid from the Pemberton and Garibaldi volunteer fire departments. Each responded with one piece of apparatus.
"We don't want to make that call late in the game when things are already progressing too far," she said.
"We make that call early on."
Two days after the fire, the lot where a house once stood was eerily quiet — dark, charred and surrounded by yellow caution tape. All that remained of the two-storey home was a pile of ashen rubble and the invasive smell of burning.
Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden lauded the efforts of Kirkwood and all those who helped control the blaze.
"The potential of this fire in spreading further than it actually did was significant, and given the very extreme weather conditions we had with the dryness, it was a good call to call in the other fire departments," she said.
"I just really appreciate and acknowledge the work by everybody in this case."
All told, 19 people and one dog were displaced, the cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
"There is significant amount of damage on the fire building of origin. We may not turn up any physical clues," Kirkwood said.
"It's really going to come down to witness statements and whether we can piece together what may have occurred there."
Earlier in the night, a house party at the residence had drawn noise complaints, a neighbour said, though Kirkwood couldn't link the house fire to the party in any definitive terms.
"Certainly there were people home at the time, but there was not an active party going on when our crews came on scene."
Two people were injured in the blaze, one seriously.
One man received third degree burns and remains in the Vancouver General Hospital's burn unit.
The second injury involved second-degree burns and a possible fractured heel, sustained when a male tenant jumped from the second-floor balcony to escape the fire.
He was treated and released from the Whistler Health Care Centre the morning of the fire.
For those who lost everything in the fire, the next step is unclear.
Emergency Social Services was arranged for the immediate aftermath, and will provide accommodations, food and other needs for up to 72 hours.
Further support — including counselling and food — is available through the Whistler Community Services Society.
As news of the fire spread, friends and family of those affected were springing into action to do everything they could to help.
A Facebook group was set up to assist one group of displaced residents, while donation bins were set up to help out another.
"We're just trying to keep it together, and collect some things and build from there," said Adrienne Mattson, manager at Open Country in Whistler.
An Open Country employee and her three children were displaced in the fire. The family lost everything they own.
"Hopefully it all comes together for them, but you can't replace your life," Mattson said.
To see how you can help, contact Open Country at 604-938-9268 or OC2 at 604-938-9266.
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