Penticton Fire Department members standing where a house fire started on Wednesday night on Lakeside Road that completely destroyed one residence and jumped to the neighbours house. Mark Brett/Western News

Search fails to turn up missing woman from fire scene

Penticton Fire Department say they are now turning the investigation over to RCMP

The matter of Wednesday’s Lakeside Road fire has been turned over to RCMP after searchers on Thursday failed to find the remains of a 94-year-old woman that was initially reported to be inside one of the two houses that were destroyed.

“We see no remnants at this point of anybody being left in the building of the fire, and the fire investigation is now complete,” said Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson at a news briefing at the property. “We would have liked to have some closure of finding the victim but maybe there is hope. We are hoping that somebody may have information on this and that they report it to the RCMP and help them with their investigation.”

According to Watkinson, attempts to contact the family with news about not being able to find the woman were unsuccessful, adding it was “challenging to make that connection.”

“Our reports are that the family members visited the individual of this home at 3 p.m. The fire was reported at 6:15 p.m. so we are talking about three-hour gap,” said Watkinson. “We have reports that she had difficulty with mobility and also had vision and hearing impairments.”

He said the fire appeared to have started in the southeast corner of the building located at 3923 Lakeside Rd., however because of the intensity they have so far been unable to determine a cause. Although the fire was intense, he felt some remains should have been found if someone was inside the home.

“In my experience fires of this size and capacity doesn’t have the burn rate to destroy human remains completely,” said Watkinson. “Certainly fire will create chars and burns, but the fall down from the roof of this structure would have likely covered that individual and protected them … there would have been fire burns but not complete disposal of the body.”

A full team of investigators went through the debris twice Thursday, and a demolition team is expected to go through the process once more. Plainclothes RCMP General Investigation Section members and uniformed officers were at the site Thursday afternoon however declined to comment. When contacted later, RCMP Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth said he had no further update from the release earlier in the day, saying the woman was unaccounted for.

According to Watkinson, there was access to Skaha Lake from the property, but it’s not known whether divers would be called in to search the area near the property. The fire chief said the department had attended the property in the past over concerns over fire hazards.

“Yes, of course it did have what we consider debris that may be uncommon to the every day home, however personal property is yours to do as you please with; as long as it keeps the surrounding neighbourhood safe we don’t intervene,” said Watkinson. “At this point we had no action or litigation about this property.

“We are not considering this fire suspicious, but there was a lot of fuel load so there was an enormous amount of debris in this home that created a very productive fire, so it got big very quickly and with the fuel load and the wind created an intense burn.

“Certainly it will be a first in my career not having closure incident investigation.”

Watkinson said strong winds and the close proximity between the residences caused challenges for the firefighters in the rapidly moving fire “along with a lot of debris that was packed between the two homes.”

“So with the wind fuelling that fire and pushing it onto the neighbouring house, it just lit up that first structure rapidly. There was literally no efforts whatsoever to do any kind of interior fire tactics on that first primary home that caught fire,” said Watkinson.

The fire chief said with a quick response time of four minutes, the primary structure was already fully involved from top to bottom when they arrived on scene on Wednesday around 6:20 p.m.

Ashes and embers from the fire were transporting 150 metres away from the origin so firefighters were scouting Skaha Lake marina and the neighbouring park to make sure spot fires did not start.

“As hard as it is to say we have lost two structures today, I believe that saving the marina and the park … if that wind would have picked up harder we could have literally had a block fire here. Or, if it had changed directions and moved down the lake we would have been scrambling to keep ahead of this fire,” said Watkinson.

The owner of the neighbouring house involved in the fire was Al Mansfield, who operates the White Spot restaurant in Penticton. All residents of that home got out safely.

 

Fire Chief Larry Watkinson giving a media debriefing on Thursday. Mark Brett/Western News