NORTH VANCOUVER – Three elderly women were killed while struggling to escape from a burning three-storey apartment building in North Vancouver, the RCMP said Wednesday.
Two of the women were found in the building’s lobby, while firefighters rescued six people who were trapped on balconies at the rear of the building.
“Sadly, it looks as it’s a strong possibility they were trying to escape the smoke and the flames and they just couldn’t get out in time,” said Const. Michael McLaughlin.
The fire is being treated as suspicious until proven otherwise and the arson unit is investigating.
McLaughlin said the flames spread quickly through the wood-frame, 26-suite building. Between six to 11 people were sent to hospital for minor injuries, including smoke inhalation.
McLaughlin said the fire started at about 9:45 p.m., on Tuesday evening.
“By the time firefighters arrived, three apartments were already engulfed in flames,” McLaughlin said.
More than two dozen firefighters and six trucks were called in to battle the flames.
“Their efforts certainly prevented the spread of the fire and likely saved lives,” McLaughlin said.
“However, nobody could save three people who were trapped inside the building.”
One of the building’s residents who would only give his first name said he woke up to hear people screaming outside, saying “get out of the building.”
“I thought they were people partying,” Amir told Citytv.
“So I didn’t really think about it much but when I saw the black smoke above my head then opened the door – it was hot – and then there was smoke and fire shooting in my front door, so I had to jump out of the balcony.”
Unconfirmed reports suggest partying teenagers may have sparked the fire that has left dozens homeless.
“The fire started in the basement and then, after, it caught on from the second floor and then they heard an explosion and that is why all the screaming started,” said Esthela, another resident of the building who declined to give her last name.
She said there was little warning of the danger.
“The alarm didn’t start right away, the alarm started after – when everybody started screaming and running.”
The names of the dead have not yet been released.