Families left homeless after fire

Maria Carmen Froess, her daughter Sarah, 15 and three other songs, ages 10 to 17, have lost their home for at least three months due to a fire.   - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Maria Carmen Froess, her daughter Sarah, 15 and three other songs, ages 10 to 17, have lost their home for at least three months due to a fire.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

Acrid smoke still filled the air around Dockside Village in Steveston today, where yesterday a fire left a dozen people homeless.

The townhouse complex’s common room was filled Thursday afternoon with children playing video games and watching TV. All had been displaced by the fire.

One family with no place to go—a single mom with four kids—returned to the scene of the fire, vividly recalling early Wednesday morning.

“I had this feeling I had to bring my daughter in my room with me that night, and usually she sleeps in her own room, which is the one closer to the fire,” said mom Maria Carmen Froess, a music teacher.

Froess woke up around 4 a.m. to the smell of something burning and the sound of wood crackling. She looked out the window and saw a fire she said appeared as “an upsidedown waterfall.”

“I screamed to my daughter, ‘There’s a fire!’ So she woke up her brothers, and I told her to grab the hamster and I’ll grab the fish and call 911.”

Richmond Fire-Rescue responded to the three-storey subsidized housing complex at 12500 Trites Rd. shortly thereafter. Flames engulfed at least one of the units before crews put out the blaze in a two-hour fight. Two adjacent suites—including the one belonging to the Froess family, who had no insurance—were also damaged.

No one was injured in the fire, Richmond Fire-Rescue reported.

The city’s emergency social services team assisted nearly a dozen people and arranged temporary accommodation for them. Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze.

Dockside Village is a 40-unit complex owned by BC Housing and operated by More Than A Roof Housing Society. Christine McWilliams, manager of the complex, said the fire left 12 people homeless.

Displaced residents stayed in a hotel this week, but McWilliams said the families will be out of their suites for at least three months, so the society is now trying to make alternate living arrangements for them.

McWilliams said a number of people have come forward with offers to help, but noted two of the families, including another single mom and daughter, had no insurance are in dire straits.

“They lost everything. They don’t even have a toothbrush. Every single thing is gone,” said McWilliams. “The little girl is upset—she had all her back-to-school stuff ready.”

Anyone wishing to help can do so by making a donation to More Than A Roof Housing Society, which has set up a special account for the families. Tax receipts are available. Donations of quality furniture and household items are also welcome. Contact McWilliams at 604-271-2592.

Richmond Fire-Rescue also responded to another call Wednesday morning. Crews arrived to 10220 Bird Rd. just before 9 a.m. to find a hedge fire. The blaze had spread to a fence and siding of the house, but was quickly doused by firefighters.

Fire officials are investigating, but the small fire is being blamed on “careless disposal of embers,” said city spokesperson Kim Decker.

Decker said firefighters responded to a few other small fires last week in which hot embers were the cause—in one case a cigarette. She said fire officials are warning residents to take extra precautions with open flames given recent dry weather.

“The conditions right now are just so dry that they’re perfect for this type of fire. The two [fires] today were extremely damaging and there was the potential for loss of life—there wasn’t—but there definitely was the potential.”

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