A fire in a 13-unit apartment complex in Oliver is being treated by RCMP and the fire department as suspicious.
Sgt. Ken Harrington said members of the Oliver fire department and RCMP responded to a report of a structure fire located at 6061 Kootenay Ave. on Monday at 11:18 p.m.
“On arrival, a significant portion of the south side of the building was fully engulfed. The Oliver Fire Department conducted successful fire suppression over five hours in order to contain the blaze. All residents of the building are accounted for at this point,” said Harrington.
According to RCMP, the apartment as well as the two adjacent buildings were evacuated, displacing 35 residents. Some of those suffered the effects of smoke inhalation, but no significant injuries were reported. Oliver volunteer firefighter and media liaison Spencer Tribbick said he was one of the first trucks on the scene that did a primary search for people inside and worked on setting up an attack line.
“It was hot. The second floor corner had fire coming out of the windows and out of the eaves,” he said.
Tribbick said the fire was mainly concentrated in two suites in the southeast corner which received the most damage. He said it is believed the fire may have started in a shed on a patio below one of the suites. No firefighters were injured in the blaze, but Tribbick noted a close call.
“A firefighter was walking on the patio in the very southeast corner of the building, just off the suite that was mostly involved. He stepped on some compromised floor and dropped through but managed to catch himself with his arms. He was taken to hospital but I saw him before he left and he was walking around on his own power, cognizant and talking. I think he had some bruising on his shoulders, so minor injuries,” said Tribbick.
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Emergency Social Services and Oliver Victim Services are working to provide assistance to those that have been effected.
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes said the individuals displaced from their homes have started to receive assistance from emergency services, the Kiwanis Club is helping by donating senior housing and assisted living units that were empty and by friends and family.
“It’s devastating for the Town of Oliver to have yet another fire, but if there is any good news out of the story it is the fact they all made it out safely,” said Hovanes. “From what I am hearing from everyone is that the fire department did an incredible job of containing the fire to just a third of the building because it was a pretty big fire.”
Some residents of the apartment complex were returning to their homes as of Tuesday evening, said Dale Kronebusch, RDOS emergency services supervisor. He said they registered 11 individuals into group lodging on Monday and had 14 residents that went to other areas of the community. Kronebusch commended the Oliver Alliance Church for supporting those displaced by lodging them Monday night in the church.
“Some are getting back home today (Tuesday). There are still some that will be put up in hotel for possibly a few nights. The property manager is looking into trying to find accommodations and places to put them,” said Kronebusch.
Harrington said a provincial fire commission investigator and Penticton forensic identification section were on scene Tuesday to conduct an investigation.
“As with all fires of this nature, this event will be treated as suspicious until proven otherwise,” said Harrington.
The property owners, from North Kelowna, have been advised, and according to RCMP, have attended the scene and confirmed that the building is insured.