Christmas Day fire tears through Burnaby seniors' complex

Several families are homeless this holiday season, after a fire started by festive candles ripped through a seniors' housing complex in Burnaby on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day fire survivor: 'If I had walked the other way, I would have been burnt alive.'

Frank Wasalan escaped the fire thanks to a call from a neighbour 1:05

Several families are homeless after a fire started by festive candles ripped through a seniors' housing complex in Burnaby on Christmas Day.​

No one was seriously injured in the early morning fire at subsidized housing on Pandora Street, although two people did go to Burnaby General Hospital with smoke inhalation.

About 24 suites suffered smoke damage, and residents aren't allowed to return for now. Some are able to stay with family, but at least 10 others are being put up at a nearby hotel for the next few days.

Donald Rutherford and his wife were still in their pyjamas when they saw the flames.

"I got my wife and my cat got out and there was a lot of smoke. The next thing I know, one of the ladies' suites on the main floor just went up in fire and that's it," Rutherford said.

"I just quickly reacted. I said 'We gotta get out.' She grabbed a towel and I grabbed a towel because it was so thick you couldn't see anything and we just went out the back."

A scorched oven and personal belongings lie scattered on the lawn outside the burned housing complex in Burnaby. (CBC)

Neighbour Frank Wasalan was one of those admitted to hospital with smoke inhalation. He says he escaped the fire thanks to Rutherford's wife, who called him to wake him up and alert him to the blaze.

"If it wasn't for her, I might have not been alive today," said Wasalan. "The call's what got me up. Maybe it's just pure luck that I got up. I'm a very lucky person."

Wasalan said he was the last person out of the building and remembers falling, then jumping onto the grass outside. 

"I'm still think about getting out. It was like a movie, like Silent Hill almost. All I could see was black.

"I was yelling and screaming, trying to see if anyone else was in the building. And if I had walked the other way, I would have been burnt alive."

Assistant Fire Chief Scott Wren said the fire seems to have been accident.

"One of the ladies in the suite tipped over a table Christmas tree with some candles. It ignited the curtains …," said Wren.

For residents like Rutherford, who benefit from rent subsidies from BC Housing, the fire is especially hard to take.

"I was hoping for a good Christmas, but what are you gonna do? We never thought it was gonna happen to us and it did."