Randi Gorcak and her fiancé Justin Vedan were sitting on their couch watching TV when they heard loud banging, screaming and hollering.
It was about 10:30 p.m. Friday night and assumed it was a drunken fight or a party being busted up so they ignored the noise — until they heard someone screaming, “Help! Fire!”
For the next six hours, the Williams Inn continued to burn.
On Monday morning, Vedan and Gorcak, along with tenants Dale Delayen and Brian Collins, met with the Tribune at the Overlander Hotel where they were staying temporarily until accommodation could be found elsewhere.
On Friday, as soon as they heard there was a fire, Gorcak and Vedan put on their shoes, grabbed their keys and ran out the door into a hallway thick with black smoke.
They banged on neighbours’ doors to get them up and did what they could to put out the fire, but it kept spreading and there was no slowing it down.
“Once I realized I couldn’t put this fire out, I just started running around everywhere and started pounding on everybody’s doors and went up to the third floor and banged on as many doors as I could but it was so thick with smoke,” Vedan says.
The sound of Vedan yelling is what woke up Delayen, whose room was on the third floor, the floor that received the most damage in the fire.
He looked out into the hallway but didn’t smell any smoke or notice a fire so he went back into his room to get dressed. By the time he went back into the hallway, it was engulfed in smoke.
“I didn’t think I was going to get out,” he says.
On his way out he passed a neighbour’s room and went inside and grabbed a towel and soaked it with water. He then got on the ground and felt his way to the stairs because he couldn’t see them through the dense smoke.
“I had already sucked it into my lungs. A couple more of them and I’m done, because it just eats your chest up. I was the last guy out.”
Delayen still has the towel, which a coworker at Wal-Mart has since washed for him.
“I’m going to remember this (towel) because that saved my life. All of this stuff I have been taught about getting out of the fire immediately kicked in. I want to give real credit to this community. They have been amazing, reaching out.”
He says he is also appreciative of Gorcak and Vedan for yelling and screaming to alert him and others of the fire.
“I’m very appreciative of that. I am grateful to be alive. For a lot of us guys on the top floor, if we wouldn’t have heard that, we wouldn’t have known. It would have been too late.”
Delayen was unable to grab his false teeth in time, so he is hoping they may still be intact on his bathroom counter and will be able to retrieve them at some point.
Collins, whose room was on the first floor, was also alerted to the fire thanks to Vedan and Gorcak.
“I woke up and turned the light on and saw all of this smoke coming in underneath the door,” Collins says. “I got dressed. I didn’t want to go in the hallway because that’s where the smoke was, so I considered throwing something through the window.”
But there were people standing on the other side, so he also grabbed a towel and poured water on it and put it over his head and braved the smoke in the hallway.
“But I couldn’t see. I couldn’t find my way through the exit. There was nobody there.”
He found his way to the fire escape and got out of the building.
Gorcak and Vedan managed to rescue their dog and two of their three cats — the third couldn’t be found at that time but was found a couple of days later, cold and hungry but otherwise OK.
Gorcak says she and Vedan lost their medications, photo albums and her mother’s death and wedding certificates.
Once they can no longer stay at the Overlander Hotel, Vedan and Gorcak don’t know where they will be able to go next.
“We’re still lost. We have no where to go,” Gorcak says.
Delayen adds that for the next month he will have a place to stay, as he gets to house-sit for a co-worker.
“Emergency services are looking for alternative housing for us, so at that point, they will let me know,” he says.
David Faubert considers himself lucky, as he is one of the few tenants to have a new home to go to, though he now has little to fill it with.
Faubert says he was two days away from moving into a house with his wife Juana Cervantes and their five children, ages six, 10, 12, 13, and 16. All of their belongings were already packed up when the Williams Inn caught fire.
Four of Faubert’s children were not at home when the fire started, and his wife is in Mexico visiting relatives. But his other daughter was in the Williams Inn.
Faubert, who wasn’t at home at the time, received a call of distress from one of the tenants. He then phoned 911.
“It spread so fast. It was amazing. By the time I made that call and went back to make sure everyone was accounted for, the fire was out of control,” he says, adding that his daughter and her friend got out OK.
“I lost a puppy and a kitty, and everything else: bikes, snowboards … with five kids you kind of accumulate things. In the end, it kind of makes you reanalyze what’s important. With experiences like this, you refocus on what’s really important in life. I think it’s a big lesson.”
Faubert says he would like the tenants to know that he appreciates being with them for the last year and hopes they can all find what they need.
“It was a good project I think, because we kind of took the people who didn’t have anywhere else to go,” says Faubert, who has a background in addictions counselling and works at NOOPA. “The year I was there, it was interesting to see how everyone was improving.
“They had goals and they took two steps forward and then one back and then two steps forward.”
He says he would like to see more opportunities out there to help people with support and life skills.
“For me, though I feel I lost the most material things, I feel I have gained so much too by sharing that part of my life with the community that a lot of the times gets neglected or kind of thrown to the sideline, but they are people. The whole time I was there, I never had any of them disrespect my daughters or the rest of my family. They are decent people, human beings. I’m really satisfied there were no human casualties, and that kind of shows they were looking out for each other.
“It was people from all walks of life, people who are dealing with addictions, mental health, physical health.
“Some of them are dealing with terminal illnesses and going about a day at a time. We had struggles, we had ups and downs through our stay, but in the end, they are all really good people.
“What I would like to emphasize are the people’s strengths who were living there. It’s a wonderful community.
He says while the tenants are struggling with a lot of issues, as everyone does, at the end of the day, they were there for each other.
“That was really good to see.”
On Monday, Faubert and his children would have been filling their house with their belongings.
“It was hard but at the same time it saved a lot of moving trouble,” he laughs. “You start fresh.”
Before the fire, when packing up their belongings, one of his sons said to him, “Dad, do we really need all of this stuff? I think we should downsize.”
After the fire, he told his kids, “Well, we’ve downsized.”
He says his children have handled the disaster very well.
“The children are amazing, the way they can rebound from crisis and losses is unbelievable. Even with my wife not being here right now, they have handled themselves really well and they’ve held it together and help each other out amazingly, and they’re awesome. I would like to let my kids know they are awesome and are holding themselves together pretty good.”
Faubert encourages the community to make donations to the various organizations that are collecting for the fire victims.
All of the tenants the Tribune spoke to have expressed their heart-felt appreciation to the community, businesses, organizations and individuals, including the fire departments and other emergency personnel, the Overlander Hotel, Denny’s Restaurant, Petro Canada, Wal-Mart, Save-On-Foods, Safeway, Chevron, Halls Organics, Central Cariboo Search and Rescue, NOOPA, Mental Health, Emergency Social Services volunteers, including Kyleen, Rock, and Isabelle, as well others including John Saunders, John Madley, Dan Robertson, Indigo Vedan, Janet Cunningham, fellow tenants and many others.