Residents of the Snowberry condo complex have found themselves without a home after a fire spread through the roof of the 12-unit Upper Village building on Sunday night (Jan. 20).
Ross and Trish Baldwin were the ones that spotted flames coming from the unit next door to theirs, and have to find a new place to live for the remainder of their annual Whistler trip as a result.
The couple was driving out of the underground garage around 5:30 p.m. when Trish noted the blaze on the second-level balcony.
“The whole balcony was a big flame,” Trish told The Question on Tuesday (Jan. 22).
Ross quickly ran to warn the neighbours, while Trish honked the car’s horn to get the attention of nearby residents and emergency services were called.
Ross said the entire balcony was engulfed in flames and the fire “was rather surprisingly burning quite fiercely.
“The breadth of it, the width of it and the height of it all the way up to the eaves was on fire,” he said.
Soon firefighters were on scene, but even though all of the Whistler Fire Department’s trucks and 40 firefighters attended, assistant chief Sheila Kirkwood said it took until 9 p.m. for the blaze to be deemed under control. No injuries were reported.
“It was a very complicated roof system,” she said. “There were lots of gables and obviously winter conditions complicate the firefighting efforts.”
The fire began after the embers and ashes from a fireplace were put into a plastic bucket and left on the balcony. Kirkwood said four units were affected directly by the fire and others by smoke and water.
The Baldwins’ unit was one of those that saw significant damage from the fire, water and smoke. At first, they said they thought the situation would be over quickly.
“We were very optimistic to start with and thought in a few hours we would be back in there, drinking tea,” Trish said.
Ross noted that it was unfortunate because there was no sign of the fire inside their unit for two hours and they could have taken their personal belongings out, but did not.
The couple, who have owned their condo for 20 years, found temporary accommodation with friends of their family for now, but are unsure where they will stay until they return to Melbourne, Australia, at the end of February.
“We are uncertain of what we are going to do, we will take some time to figure it out,” Ross said, adding the kindness and generosity of their neighbours and the community since the fire has been impressive.
Kirkwood said residents in the other units in the building were accommodated for Sunday night, with most having friends or family in Whistler to stay with. One unit was rented as a vacation rental at the time and Kirkwood said they found another hotel to stay in that was covered by travel insurance.
Kirkwood said restoration crews were on scene as of Monday (Jan. 21) working on recovering the building, as most of the damage was contained to the balcony and roof.
She added it is important that ashes and embers from fireplaces be disposed of in a metal bucket with a lid and placed on a non-combustible surface.
“The embers of a fireplace really hold the heat for a long time,” she said.