An early morning fire Friday has destroyed a three-story apartment house in the 100 block of Yorston Street in downtown Williams Lake.
“We don’t know how it started at this time,” Rob Warnock, chief training co-ordinator of the Williams Lake fire department said Friday morning. “We hope everyone got out. The RCMP are still trying to track a couple people down.”
Cory Myhr lived in the basement at the front of the building and said he believed the fire started in the back of the building in the bottom apartment.
“I woke up because the smoke was coming in really heavy,” Myhr said. “I first saw the flames at the back of the building.”
Myhr has lived in Williams Lake for 47 years, but only moved into the building a few months ago.
“I believe everybody got out,” he said.
It’s the second time his home has been destroyed by fire.
“My house in Forest Grove burnt down to the ground and I lost everything in there too,” Myhr said.
Beverly Hance lives directly next door in another apartment house and woke up hearing people yelling that there was a fire.
“We were sleeping and could hear people saying, ‘there’s a fire get out, there’s a fire get out’,” she said. Her daughter looked out, saw the smoke and told her mom the place next door was on fire.
“When I looked I could see smoke was coming out through a door on the back side of the building. There’s an apartment there too,” Hance said. “The smoke started coming in so I closed the windows. When I looked back again the flames were just going.”
Hance called the fire department because she figured some of the tenants in the burning building didn’t have phones.
“They’ve asked to use ours sometimes,” Hance said.
At around 8 a.m. Anna Kalelest’s two young sons were watching the fire from across the street in the back of the family’s vehicle.
They live next door the apartment house that was destroyed.
“I grabbed some blankets that were hanging, put the boys in the car and moved over here to wait for the RCMP,” Kalelest said. “Our cat’s in there and in the upstairs apartment there’s a bird and a rabbit.”
Also worried about his four cats, Ed LeBlanc paced back and forth close to the RCMP emergency scene tape set up to keep spectators at a safe distance.
“I don’t think our place caught on fire, but I didn’t see my cats,” LeBlanc said. “The smoke would probably kill them so hopefully they got out.”
Residents of the building, along with people living directly nearby met with Emergency Services co-ordinator Dave Dickson Friday morning.
“I will find them a place to stay for the next 72 hours and then they will have to find places on their own, but we will have agencies working with them that will all come to the table,” Dixon said before the meeting. “At this point we don’t know how many people lived there or were inside at the time.”
Both 150 Mile House and Williams Lake fire departments attended the fire, attacking it from both the Yorston Street and Mackenzie Avenue sides.
“I brought seven crew members and a truck,” 150 Mile House fire chief Stan McCarthy said. “Williams Lake was here when we got here and they put us up top and moved crews and equipment down below.”
Warnock said the fire call came in at around 5:20 a.m.
“Upon arrival we had a three-story building with full involvement on the back side. RCMP were here on scene evacuating people.”
At this point the cause of the fire is unknown, Warnock said.
By 9:10 an excavator arrived on scene and began dismantling the building.
“The building is unsafe to go into and we still have some hotspots so we’re going to pull the building apart and put the hotspots out,” Warnock said. “It’s the safest way to do it.”
Originally built in 1920 as a Bank of Commerce, the building was located at the corner of First Avenue and Oliver Street.
In 1963, after the bank erected a new building at its present location on the corner of Second Avenue and Oliver Street, the original building was moved to Yorston Street and eventually became an apartment house.