British Columbia

Neighbouring homes burned after abandoned house fire in Vancouver

Homeowners in three nearby houses were rescued safely Thursday morning.

Homeowners in three nearby houses were rescued safely Thursday morning

Vancouver firefighters battle a fire affecting two homes on Prior Street Thursday morning. (GP Mendoza/CBC)

A fire that broke out in an abandoned home spread to three neighbouring houses in Vancouver on Thursday morning, leaving at least one family homeless.

Flames broke out in the vacant house on Prior Street near Gore Avenue just before 6 a.m.

When firefighters arrived, they found the home fully engulfed, with flames spreading quickly through the dense Strathcona block.

One of the houses directly next door to the abandoned house — where the fire started — had considerable damage to the upper floor. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

A statement from Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services said crews were able to enter the two homes directly surrounding the fire and help families escape safely.

Those homes were badly damaged on the upper floors before fire was put out.

Annie Lee lived inside one of the neighbouring houses.

She said her son woke her up after he heard popping sounds, then noticed flames.

After being rescued, Lee sat hunched on a nearby bench and watched her home burn.

"I don't know what to do," she said, adding that the family didn't have insurance.

A fourth house was also damaged in the fire.

Firefighters couldn't get inside safely as there was hoarding inside. Later, crews were told the only person living in the home had escaped with a neighbour's help.

Empty house fires down

It was Vancouver's fifth vacant house fire of 2018 — a "significant" drop from 19 in 2017 and 35 in 2016.

VFRS Capt. Jonathan Gormick said the drop is largely due to a new bylaw which adds stiff penalties for vacant homeowners who don't board up their homes to deter squatters and vandals.

Jonathan Head lives in the area and said there'd been complaints about people breaking into the empty home in the past.

"Something needs to be done so that our block doesn't catch on fire," he said.

Late Thursday, the City of Vancouver said there have been "numerous complaints" about the abandoned home.

The owners were ordered to clean up the property, fix unsafe conditions, fence the property and board up the house. When they didn't comply, the city sent contractors to do it.

The latest complaint came on May 23, just eight days before the fire. An inspector requested another cleanup order be sent to the owners, but the city said it wasn't done before Thursday.

Another boarded-up home, across the alley from the house that burned, was also the subject of complaints on May 23.

The city said the owner of that property was told to fix up the landscaping, but the city found the fencing and boarding were up to bylaw standards.

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