Raging orange flames wipped through a Creekside duplex early Tuesday morning, burning the entire A-frame structure to the ground and leaving behind an empty, smouldering lot.
“I have never been so scared,” said Carol Guinn who has lived behind the property at 2081 Squaw Valley Crescent since 1979.
Guinn said she was lying in bed awake at 4:30 a.m. when the fire broke out. She heard it snap and crackle through her open window.
“When I looked out, it was like the whole building was engulfed,” she said.
“I called directly to the fire department. I said, ‘There is a fire in that house… This is not a bonfire. The house itself is on fire, and somebody had better get down here fast.”
Guinn had taken all her family pictures off her wall and left her important possessions at her front door in case the fire spread to her home.
The RCMP and fire department believe the fire was deliberately set.
“It is looking suspicious in nature,” said fire chief Rob Whitton.
The duplex was unoccupied at the time of the blaze and was slated for demolition. Whitton said the majority of the dry wall and insulation had already been ripped out, and the windows had been broken. He added that there were no obvious sources of ignition, since the power had been cut off for over week.
“We investigated the fire first thing in the morning, and it is rather obvious that we believe it to be a set fire.”
The Whistler RCMP and Whistler Fire Rescue rushed to the scene at 4:30 a.m. and worked hard over the next three hours to contain the fire and prevent it spreading to nearby houses and trees. The RCMP also knocked on doors to get neighbours out of their houses.
Albert Bryjack, who also lived near the duplex, estimates the flames were at least 100 feet high.
“The flames topped the height of the trees, and the trees — there is a combination of 10 fir and cedar trees — are all of that height,” said Bryjack.
He added that sparks from the flame were landing as far as the parking lot for Roland’s Pub (former known as Hoz’s Pub).
The fire never spread and no one was injured, although several trees behind the property started to ignite because of the intense heat. The windowpane of one of the next door houses also cracked after getting hit by the cold water from fire department hoses. Other neighbouring houses sustained some heat damage to roof tiles.
According to Guinn, bonfires in the area are common, and the RMCP were already familiar with the address. She said that even though the duplex was supposed to be unoccupied, she often saw people wandering onto the property in the middle of the night.
In fact, Guinn had called the RCMP at 10:30 the night of the fire because of a party happening at a house across from the duplex. She was awoken again at 3 a.m. because of the noise.
“I wish I had called the RCMP again, because at that very residence, somebody was having another bonfire,” said Guinn.
“You can go onto that property now, and you can see the fire ring where the bonfire had been previously lit.”
Whitton said the fire department have been concerned about fires in that area and are looking into changing the fire protection bylaw. Campfires under the current bylaw are allowed, although they have to meet the requirements of the burning permit. He added that the fire department wrote a letter to the owner of the duplex saying bonfires are no longer allowed on that site.
Guinn said she thinks that no campfires should be allowed in the area.
“The trees around here are very, very old. Yes we do have our rainy season, but with the proper spark or whatever, those trees will go up. They are wood,” she said.
She added: “There are so many people around here. People live in trucks, and sheds, and people camp along and around here,” she said, calling Squaw Valley Crescent a party street.
“I certainly think Creekside bares looking at. There are a lot of old buildings down here, and there is a lot of multiple people dwelling in them.”
Whistler Fire Rescue and the RCMP have turned the investigation over to the owner. The owner has contacted his insurance company.
“Whether their insurance company is going to do an investigation is up to them,” said Whitton.
He added that he believes the owner is still hoping to complete the demolition of the building sometime this week.
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