"All of the sudden there was a big bang on the door."
When the strata council president knocked on his door and then ran down the hallway yelling "fire," Shaun Driver knew he had to act fast.
He and his wife grabbed jackets, shoes and the baby bag, collected their toddler and five-month-old, and scrambled to the door of their second-floor apartment at Mary Hill Place — located at 2245 Wilson Ave. near downtown Port Coquitlam.
"Soon as you open the door the smoke pushed in."
It was a surreal experience for the lawyer, who recently moved to PoCo with his family, and even now, days later, Driver tells the Tri-City News it's difficult to describe the chaos and uncertainty of the moment.
At 10 p.m. on Saturday (June 25), Port Coquitlam firefighters were called to the scene of the apartment fire while Driver, who had been watching TikTok videos with his wife and baby and planning a trip to the circus before the blaze, was now scanning the hallway looking for a safe exit.
Exit was facing the fire
Smoke was coming from the east, Driver recalled, and the family ran down from the second level to a landing half-way between the first and second floor.
"When we turned the corner to get to the south side of the building, at that point of time, the fire is up to the third floor lapping up the top of the building," Driver said.
With his closest exit facing the fire, Driver, who was carrying his toddler, realized he would have to run towards the blaze to get away from it.
"My son was reminding me that the 'fire was hot,'" he explains.
"We weren’t that close, but for a two-and-a-half-year-old who is looking at a three-storey fire, he was certainly noticing what was happening."
Down below, residents of the 41-unit building were beginning to gather.
As many as 30 firefighters from Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam departments had arrived and had begun working on the fire which was concentrated on the east wing of the building.
Eventually, the family made it outside. However, everything they owned was left inside, including Drivers' wallet, and while they had some baby gear, the nipples needed for the baby bottles were missing.
Thankfully, the city had established an emergency social services centre at the Port Coquitlam Community Centre (PCCC), where Driver was able to find baby essentials, toiletries and other necessities.
Looking for neighbours
The next several hours would be taken up with finding a safe refuge for his family, which turned out to be the home of the couple's nanny, and working with the strata council to determine if everyone had left the building.
One person was rescued by firefighters and reportedly burned, and one firefighter suffered from smoke inhalation.
Still, Driver is relieved everyone was eventually accounted for and he thanks the city, his neighbours and Port Coquitlam residents who've offered support and encouragement over the last several days.
Local restaurants, including Me-N-Eds Pizza, Sunfire Pizza, 7-Eleven and Tim Hortons, provided food and coffee for the displaced residents and a Facebook group was started to collect needed items.
Driver, who is staying with family in a Vancouver hotel and has temporary accommodation for the next few weeks, is looking for short-term rental accommodation — as are many of the displaced residents of Mary Hill Place.
Sorting out his insurance, to find out what they will and will not pay for, is one of his top priorities, something he says everyone else living at Mary Hill Place will be doing now as well.
Some people didn't have homeowners insurance and a GoFundMe page has been set up to help them build back from the ashes.
Driver said his home suffered water and smoke damage and it could be months before the building is restored or rebuilt. He's also waiting to find out the condition of his vehicle.
Meanwhile, he expects all the items in his storage locker are ruined from water damage.
As of today (June 29), residents were expected to learn if they would be allowed back in their apartments to collect important items.
The city has set up a web page with information about the PoCo apartment fire and its aftermath.
Donations, fundraisers for displaced
"We don't know what is is we're missing," Driver said.
He bought toys for his children that were familiar, and his family is trying to get back into a routine.
These are issues everyone is facing who lived in the now-devastated building, Driver acknowledges, with finding temporary accommodation probably the biggest hurdle for most people.
While he and his neighbours sort out their issues, Driver urges everyone to "hug your kids a little tighter and make sure you've got an emergency preparedness kit ready to go."
"[An emergency] happens so fast."
An organizer of donations for the displaced residents is still sorting out the details, and more information will be provided when it becomes available.
However, four known GoFundMe campaigns have started for displaced families who lost everything in the Port Coquitlam fire:
- A fundraiser organized by Christina Martinez for Paola and son, Mati
- A fundraiser organized by Precious Tolon for Tess and her family
- A fundraiser organized by Annelies Stegen for Melody Init
- A fundraiser organized by Lissa Diab for a family of three, Alex, Margo and Wyatt