Langley Fire: The aftermath of the inferno

Firefighters carry equipment from the scene of Monday’s Willoughby fire. The April 19, 2021 blaze turned the Alexander Square development at the corner of 208th Street and 80th Avenue to rubble. (Rob Wilton/Special to Langley Advance Times)Firefighters carry equipment from the scene of Monday’s Willoughby fire. The April 19, 2021 blaze turned the Alexander Square development at the corner of 208th Street and 80th Avenue to rubble. (Rob Wilton/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
The rubble left behind at the construction site of the Alexander Square development. The Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021 was reported around 9:30 p.m. (Rob Wilton/Special to Langley Advance Times)The rubble left behind at the construction site of the Alexander Square development. The Willoughby condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue on April 19, 2021 was reported around 9:30 p.m. (Rob Wilton/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Firefighters walk past the rubble at the site of a construction site fire Tuesday, April 20 at 80th Avenue and 208th Street. (Rob Wilton/Special to the Langley Advance Times)Firefighters walk past the rubble at the site of a construction site fire Tuesday, April 20 at 80th Avenue and 208th Street. (Rob Wilton/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Fire alarms could still be heard sounding off in neighbouring buildings the day after Monday’s inferno in Willoughby engulfed a condo complex leaving behind only two elevator shafts and displacing several residents in the area.

“It is one of, if not, the largest fires our fire department has ever responded to,” said Andy Hewitson, assistant chief with the Township of Langley.

The veteran firefighter was still on scene late Tuesday, where crew members continued to douse hot spots in the smouldering rubble.

The flames originated in a condo development that was still under construction, Hewitson explained. But it later spread to neighbouring buildings that were occupied.

“Crews responding from a nearby station arrived to find a massive body of fire,” he described.

The blaze impacted three apartment buildings under construction and several townhomes, forcing many to evacuate. But Hewitson confirmed there were no injuries reported.

READ MORE: Evacuees describe seeing ‘Armageddon’ as embers rained down on Langley homes

“The heat caused by the fire was severe with radiant heat-damage to the surrounding buildings and even some fire trucks that crews placed in an attempt to keep the fire away from occupied units,” he further elaborated.

Explosive sounds could be heard at the scene as the fire knocked out BC Hydro transformers, leaving 4,000 customers in the neighbourhood without power. Flames and smoke shot into the night sky – the fire visible for kilometres.

The blaze at 208th Street and 80th Avenue, first reported around 9:30 p.m. on Monday, April 19 prompted a response from 76 firefighters, including additional support from City of Langley members.

Hewitson provided an update to the Langley Advance Times around 1 a.m. Tuesday, hours into the battle, explaining the fight to contain the fire was “far from over.”

READ MORE: Firefighters battle massive condo fire in Langley

At that time, the fire department was waiting for the arrival of heavy construction equipment to help contain the fire scene.

“An excavator was brought in to cut a fire break between two buildings and remove a large propane tank beside an involved building,” Hewitson said.

Containing the blaze proved to be a challenge at the construction site, Hewitson noted, as “flying debris” sparked “numerous” fires.

“As you can imagine, the more exposed, combustible materials, the faster the fire grows,” he explained. “The intense heat created not only makes getting close enough difficult, but it also allows unburned fuels to generate the necessary vapours to ignite.”

The Alexander Square apartment complex consisted of four buildings, each in various stages of construction, with two levels of concrete parkade and six levels of wood frame construction, according to a statement released Tuesday by Metro-Can Construction, the general contractor for the site.

The total footprint of the four-building complex was 103,000 sq. ft. The complex had a total of 308 units, according to Laura Cropper, a media relations person with Metro-Can.

READ MORE: Developer promises burned Langley condos will be rebuilt

The company said there was one security guard and one employee on site when the fire started.

“When our employee spotted the fire, he contacted the Township of Langley Fire Department and alerted Metro-Can,” the company said in the statement. “We do not know the cause of the fire.”

THE AFTERMATH

Hewitson described the damage as “massive.”

The Langley School District announced Willoughby Elementary School, located right across the street, would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. The school was not damaged in the fire.

“The school was closed due to proximity and air quality,” Hewitson said.

The surrounding five-block radius around the fire was closed to motorists Tuesday. The traffic cones were moved Wednesday, cordoning a two-block radius.

By Wednesday evening the intersection of 80th Avenue and 208th Street was re-opened, however, the curb lanes on 208th Street and 80th Avenue fronting the site of the fire remained closed.

BC Hydro has restored power to the area by Wednesday, but some residents were still without internet service.

Investigators will be on scene for a number of days working to determine a cause. The fire department is asking the public to send video and photos, including dash-cam or security footage taken in the area between 8 and 10:30 p.m. on Monday to fireinfo@tol.ca.

COMMUNITY CARES

Residents who were evacuated from the Willoughby Walk building (20839 78B Ave.) and the Boulevard Townhome complexes (20849-20852 78B Ave.) were cleared to return late Tuesday, Township of Langley announced online. However, residents of the Luxia Townhome complex (7947 209th St.) were not permitted to return “due to lack of power and safety issues.” But were permitted to return on Wednesday.

In the hours after the fire those impacted were asked to report to Willoughby Hall to register in the emergency preparedness program. That location was closed late Tuesday, but people needing help can still contact the emergency program through the Township’s civic facility.

There was more than just support offered by the province through the emergency program. The community right here in Langley was quick to spring into action.

The emergency disaster services team at Gateway of Hope served food and water to firefighters at the scene during the fire.

“We are going to continue to support them with food and water until the situation has improved,” the local shelter posted.

Although hit hard by pandemic restrictions it didn’t stop local businesses from doing their part. Trading Post Brewing offered impacted residents and first responders a beer on the house. While Fraserlife Physio located in Willowbrook offered Willoughby residents office space to continue work (info@fraserlifephysio.ca).

“We are proud to call Langley our home and are here to help,” they wrote on a social media post.

The nearby Dairy Queen at Willoughby Town Centre offered free food to evacuees, as well as emergency personnel. Darling K9s offered free temporary dog boarding.

People were on social media offering help as well.

Residents still in need of help can reach the local emergency preparedness program by calling 604-514-2820 or email ep@LangleyPrepared.ca.

For updates visit www.tol.ca/news/Willoughby-Apartment-Fire.


@JotiGrewal_
joti.grewal@blackpress.ca

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