A significant fire swept through a townhouse development and impacted up to 10 North Delta homes near the 6200-block Scott Road in the early hours of Thursday, July 5.
Surrey Fire’s assistant chief Jason Cairney said the department got a call around 1 a.m. about a fire at the Woodbridge Homes’ Sylvia townhouse development on 121st Street in Surrey. Delta Fire got a call around the same time.
“The crews responded and arrived to the townhouse complex being fully involved,” Cairney said. Nearly 40 Surrey firefighters and 10 firefighting apparatus were on scene, while 18 firefighters and five apparatus came from Delta.
According to an electrician who worked on the project, the 38 homes were scheduled to be complete at the end of the summer.
“These were almost complete buildings yesterday, with roofs on and everything,” the electrician told Surrey Now-Leader reporter Tom Zillich, who visited the scene the morning of the fire. According to Zillich, the siding was melted on neighbouring houses and trees were torched next to buildings.
Aftermath of fire in Surrey on 121st Street at townhouse complex under construction, Woodbridge Homes’ Sylvia at Boundary Park project. pic.twitter.com/Xd7jNUFeOS
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) July 5, 2018
Residents remembered seeing the flames in the sky in the early morning. Many were evacuated, some going to the neighbouring church, while others said TransLink brought buses for them to shelter in.
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) July 5, 2018
At 1:30 a.m., members of the Delta Police Department arrived to assist. According to public affairs coordinator Cris Leykauf, the department was dealing with a “significant fire” when the wind picked up and started blowing “tennis ball-sized embers” across Scott Road.
“It was very dramatic,” she said. “The members said it was like something out of a movie.”
It was at that time Delta firefighters on scene realized the embers were travelling to North Delta homes, deputy chief Guy McKintuck said. Those firefighters called him and two other deputy chiefs to open the emergency operations centre at Firehall No. 1 in Ladner.
| The view of the townhouse development fire from a neighbours dining room window.
At times, McKintuck said, Delta Fire was getting more calls than they could handle. In total, there were nine firetrucks in North Delta and 45 firefighters battling flames at a number of homes in the Sunshine Hills area. Firefighters were doing quick hits to eliminate hot spots on homes before moving on to the next fire.
On Facebook, commenters said fire department members were in neighbouring cul-de-sacs watching that the embers did not enter Watershed Park. Other residents noted on Facebook that Delta Police Department members worked to get rid of embers that found their way onto roofs before the fire department could arrive, and neighbours came together to protect large trees that were at risk of catching on fire.
Three families were told to evacuate their homes, as the fire moved to those houses.
In a Facebook post, North Delta resident Wayne Allen said he woke two families that were fast asleep and helped get them out of their house while another house was engulfed in flames.
“The fire jumped Scott Road into Pinewood, like three blocks away,” Allen wrote “I got two families up and out while others went door to door on more than one block. Leah and I are so smelly with smoke. My wrist hurts from pounding. There are fire engines coming in from everywhere. We were just on our way home. It is insane up there… We are home now. Hope all goes well.”
| Shirley Brennan’s home, which was damaged in the North Delta fire Thursday morning.
(Grace Kennedy photo)
Shirley Brennan was also evacuated from her home. She was asleep in her bedroom when she heard people banging on her door and shouting to get out.
“People were going around the neighbourhood ringing doorbells and banging on doors,” she said. When she got outside, she saw her Cottonwood Street home engulfed in flames.
“It was an inferno,” she said, “with these fireballs blowing around like this.” She created a circle with her hands, showing the size of the flying embers.
“I ran in to get the purse and the keys, ran out the door and the house was a torch.”
| The view into the front entryway at Shirley Brennan’s home. The light at the top of the stairs is from the sky above.
(Grace Kennedy photo)
Brennan’s house was severely damaged by the fire. The roof had been reduced to charred studs, and the bedroom where she was sleeping was filled with collapsed drywall and beams. Her backyard was filled with charred pieces of wood, and the smell of smoke permeated the area.
She had been out on her front lawn since 1 a.m., although she was able to change into clothes her daughter had brought her by the early afternoon. She planned on staying with family for that night, but after that she didn’t know.
“I’ve got to find somewhere to live,” she said. “I won’t be going in here for a year.”
Two other houses across the street from Brennan were damaged by the fire, and another home had a large burnt area on their front lawn.
Once Surrey firefighters had dealt with the townhouse fire, McKintuck said, they moved 12 firefighters and two deputy chiefs over to Delta to help manage the fires.
During the night, McKintuck said, Delta Fire called in mutual aid from the Richmond Fire Department and the New Westminster Fire Department to help man Firehall No. 1 in South Delta and Firehall No. 3 in North Delta in case any other calls came in.
“It was a very, very chaotic night,” McKintuck said. “But with the help from our neighbours and our firefighters we were able to keep the damage to a minimum.”
Between nine and 10 homes in North Delta were impacted from the embers, although McKintuck did not know the exact number.
The house fires in North Delta were under control by around 5:30 or 6 a.m., McKintuck said, although there were still some hot spots. At 11 a.m., there were still some members on scene dealing with the damaged homes.
“They were amazing,” Brennan said about the fire department. “Delta police and fire department were wonderful. And they’ve been out all night.”
According to Cairney, the townhouse development fire wasn’t completely put out at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“Even right now there’s still some hot spots that we can’t get to because the buildings have all sort of burnt and crumbled down on top of some smouldering fires,” he said. “It will probably be until we can pull it apart that it actually gets fully extinguished.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
-with files from Tom Zillich