One person died in a fire at a Langley City seniors residence early Wednesday morning.                                 Shane MacKichan photo

One person died in a fire at a Langley City seniors residence early Wednesday morning. Shane MacKichan photo

Man dies in fire at Langley seniors residence

Cause of blaze near 203 Street and 54 Avenue under investigation

DAN FERGUSON AND MONIQUE TAMMINGA

Times Reporters

A male resident of a seniors complex in Langley has died in a fire that erupted in his apartment early Wednesday morning.

Residents of the Birch building of the Rainbow Lodge, which is operated by the Langley Lions near 203 Street and 54 Avenue said the alarm went off around 12:30 a.m.

Arthur Gauthier lives on the third floor, down the hall from the suite where the fire started.

“I heard the alarm, I got up, pulled my jeans on and then I smelled smoke and went, ‘OK, this is serious,’” Gauthier told the Times.

When he stepped outside, he said the hallway was filled with smoke.

“It was pitch black, like midnight,” Gauthier said.

He could see smoke coming from cracks in the door of the burning suite as he passed it, crouching down to avoid the smoke.

“I heard a bunch of things breaking and cracking and falling over (in the suite). I thought that door could go any time. If that goes, I’m stuck in the middle of it. So I boogied out the stairway.”

John Mark, who lives on the second floor below the burning suite, said he barely had time to throw on some shoes and flee in his bathrobe.

“It was really fast,” Mark said.

Mark said the occupant of the suite was a man in his 60s, who was a “heavy smoker.”

Resident Peter Lehmann said he thought the ringing alarm was “bogus” until residence staff pounded on the door to his first-floor suite.

“It (the alarm) goes off with regularity, so the tendency is to ignore it,” Lehmann said.

“Suddenly there was a bang-bang at the door and I was informed it was real.”

“I said, ‘Is this a drill?’ They said, ‘this is for real.’”

Christine Hanusiak was in bed when the alarm went off.

“I got dressed and went out. I saw the flames coming out of the apartment, they were pretty big.”

Witnesses said the fire spread through the roof before it was controlled by fire crews.

They estimate it took about 45 minutes to extinguish the blaze.

Langley City Fire Rescue acting assistant chief Scott Kennedy said the building’s 67 residents will not be allowed back into their homes for the next couple of nights.

“It’s just precautionary at this time, so we can go in and investigate what condition the building is in. The evacuated residents are being housed in hotels or with family,” said Kennedy.

More than 30 Langley City Fire and Township firefighters battled the blaze. Kennedy said at one point, more than 200 people were evacuated because the fire alarm activates in two other buildings that are connected.

“We were dealing with many seniors who had mobility challenges, who use canes, walkers and wheelchairs,” he said. “They were assisted by firefighters who brought them down the stairs.”

Displaced residents were transported to local hotels with meal vouchers Wednesday morning while investigators probed the cause of the blaze.

“They won’t let me in to get my medicine,” said resident Norm Jorgenson. “(I live on the bottom floor) where there’s no smoke or damage or anything.”

The building is sprinklered and they did activate, aiding in the suppression of the fire, said Kennedy. Langley City Fire and Emergency Preparedness co-ordinator were meeting with all the evacuees at the Rainbow hall Wednesday afternoon.

Kennedy said they are actively working on finding out what caused the deadly blaze.