British Columbia

'Aggressive' inferno rages through Langley, B.C., condo building

A massive fire raged through a large Langley condo building on 56th Avenue Sunday, sending plumes of smoke skyward and leaving dozens homeless before Christmas. Officials say they do not expect residents will be able to occupy the building again anytime soon.

'I don't think anyone in this apartment block will be returning in the near future to occupy the building'

Witnesses said flames were 20 to 30 feet higher than the four-storey building and seemed to be coming from the centre of the complex. (Yvonne Angus)

A large fire raging through a condo building in Langley, B.C., Sunday has displaced dozens of people right before Christmas and sent one resident and two firefighters to hospital.

"The first crews who entered the suite that was on fire had noticed the ceiling had come down in the kitchen area of the suite and the fire was already well established in the attic space of the building," said fire chief Rory Thompson.

He said one resident was rescued from the fourth floor of the building and taken to hospital for smoke inhalation, as were two firefighters. 

A resident of a building on fire in Langley, B.C., holds her cat, which was rescued from her apartment. (Linda Cyrette)

As of Sunday afternoon, Thompson said he didn't think any residents were still in the building, but the 50 to 55 firefighters battling the fire had been checking suites for pets left behind when possible. 

Crews began working on the building at 56th Avenue and 201a Street since about 10:15 a.m. PT.

"We've already had several collapses of the gables on the side of the building, so we're not about to put anyone in harm's way at this time," he said. 

"I don't think anyone in this apartment block will be returning in the near future to occupy the building." 

The complex has approximately 60 units. Buildings on either side of it have also been evacuated, but Thompson said he expects those residents to return by Sunday night. 

Thompson said he couldn't say yet how the fire started, but it appears to have begun on a fourth-floor balcony and made its way into the attic. 

While sprinklers are required in the suites and hallways of most apartment buildings, they are not required on balconies or attics. 

About 50 to 55 firefighters have been working to put out a large fire in Langley, B.C. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

According to Thomson, the fire is one of the largest in Langley in at least two years. 

"It certainly is a challenge for both the fire department and the emergency management section of the city to look after all the residents who have been displaced," he said. 

By 4 p.m. PT Sunday, crews were winding down, but expected to be on scene for at least a few more hours.

A reception centre has been set up at the Douglas Recreation Centre for residents to get information and assistance. 

'It looked aggressive'

Smoke began pouring from the four-storey building around 10:15 a.m. PT. 

Witness Crysta Serne was driving by when she saw billowing black smoke.

"An entire apartment complex was engulfed in flames," she said.

"It looked aggressive. The fire was coming up through the ceiling. It almost appeared if it was in the middle of the apartment complex."

A large Langley condo building is engulfed in flames near the Fraser highway. (Shane MacKichan)

"The smoke and the flames were at least 20 to 30 feet higher than the actual building," said a tearful Serne.

"It was an unfortunate, impressive sight. It breaks my heart because it is so close to Christmas and it was probably something that was so innocently set, started the whole thing to affect so many families and so many lives," she said.

Witnesses described a pungent smell of wood and plastic blocks away.

At least three fire trucks used foam and water to try to douse the raging flames in a large four-storey condo building Sunday in Langley, B.C. (Shane MacKichan)

Traffic is affected in all directions around the large building near Fraser Highway.

Passersby are tweeting pictures of the flaming building, describing it as a "huge" fire.

Neighbours are also tweeting concern for the safety of people inside — and images of the smoke in the winter sky.

"I hope all are safe," tweeted Jeffrey Bernasor.

A man is helped by paramedics outside a raging condo fire in Langley, B.C. Sunday. (Shane MacKichan)
A condo fire in progress on Sunday in Langley, B.C., near Glover Road. (Jeffrey Bernasor/Twitter)

With files from Tina Lovgreen and Yvette Brend