An Ahousaht woman escaped an early morning apartment fire in Port Hardy, without serious injury.
Melissa Dick, 38, of Ahousaht, was with her spouse in their second-floor unit at Town Park Apartments when a fire broke out in the hallway Sunday night (Jan. 17).
Andrew Dawson, 35, said the fire alarm had gone off but, seeing no sign of fire, he called the building manager to have the alarm turned off. He said he and his girlfriend Melissa were preparing to go to bed when he decided to go out for a smoke.
“I told her I’d be right back, but when I went out in the hallway I saw thick, black smoke from the ceiling to about halfway down to the floor,” said Dawson.
The fire was down the hall to his left. He could not see flames but saw that the walls in the hallway were glowing orange.
“I started banging on doors and walls, telling everyone to get out, that this was a real fire,” said Dawson.
The fire was down at the end of the hall, blocking one of the exits.
“I ran up to the third floor and banged on doors; I guided the people out the one open exit,” he said.
By the time he got back down to the second floor, the hall was impassable, with smoke so thick he couldn’t see his hand in front of him. Dawson managed to help evacuate the people on the first floor before running out of the building.
Once outside, he looked up at the windows of his apartment. To his surprise, Melissa was still in the building, sitting on the window ledge of the second floor. An uncle, his girlfriend and Melissa were tying sheets together to escape the building.
“They were getting ready to shimmy down the sheets but the fire was too close so I told them to jump. I promised to catch them or at least break their fall,” Dawson shared.
Melissa began to ease herself down the sheet but lost her grip and fell into the arms of Dawson. She was sore, but otherwise uninjured.
According to Dawson, seven people from three apartment units on the second floor jumped from the windows. One woman dropped her dog out the window, breaking its leg. Dawson’s sister broke her leg from the fall and his uncle’s girlfriend fractured her tailbone.
Fortunately, thanks to Dawson’s heroic effort, nobody from the third floor was forced to jump.
Port Hardy Fire Chief Brent Borg told Ha-Shilth-Sa that the call came in 11:18 p.m. on Jan. 17 in the C Block of the Town Park apartment complex.
The fire burned through the second-floor hallway. Thirty members of the Port Hardy Fire Rescue along with six members from the neighboring Port McNeill Fire Rescue responded to the blaze.
“The fire is suspicious – there was a mattress in the hallway and that’s not normal,” said Borg, adding that the RCMP are investigating.
There were no sprinkler systems in the building but there was a functioning fire alarm.
According to Borg, there are four buildings in the complex. Some have undergone renovations but not C Block.
He confirmed that some residents were injured after jumping from windows to escape the fire. There were 18 units in the block, a few were vacant. Borg said that emergency support services came in and put up 24 residents in a hotel.
Dawson says that he and Melissa missed out on the motel room and are, for now, couch surfing with relatives. He said a few older people were put in vacant apartments in other buildings.
Borg noted that while there was extensive damage in the hallway, apartments in the building were not burnt because doors were closed.
“We like to tell people close before you doze,” said Borg, noting that closed doors act as incredible fire barriers. “The insides of the apartments were pristine yet the hallway was completely torched.”
He went on to say that the residents’ belongings should be fine.
In 2019 a woman lost her life in a fire at the Town Park Apartments. Borg said that the fire was confined to an apartment and is believed to have started by a lit candle or cigarette. He said the victim made it out of the building but perished when she ran back in to save her cat.
Borg said it is important for people to remember that if they get out of a burning building, they need to stay out.
Dawson says he’s been told that they won’t have access to their apartment for four to six months. He said that the first floor of the building has already been looted.
Andrew and Melissa say their most immediate need is clothes. He wears size 36-38 jeans, men’s XL sweats and shirts. Melissa wears women’s size XL clothing.
Dawson can accept financial donations by e-transfer at firstname.lastname@example.org