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Nobody hurt but damage severe at condo

Mike Judd holds a Ziploc bag full of medications salvaged from his fire-damaged condo and says he's just happy nobody was hurt.

Mike Judd holds a Ziploc bag full of medications salvaged from his fire-damaged condo and says he's just happy nobody was hurt.

The 80-year-old is one of more than 100 Coquitlam residents left homeless by Tuesday's fire in a 75-unit condo complex at 99 Begin St. in Maillardville.

All the residents escaped the blaze without injury but for Judd and his wife, getting their lives back will still be a long, uphill battle yet. The couple, like many others forced out by the fire, are now living in a motel and awaiting word on when they can return to their homes.

"My unit is reasonably good. I'm on the North end... and [the fire] went south," Judd said, noting that the blaze appeared to start in the building's roof, where workers were doing repairs.

The displaced residents gathered at Coquitlam's Centennial Pavilion Wednesday afternoon, some to register with the city to receive 72 hours of emergency food and shelter assistance, others to hear a briefing from the fire department and restoration company about when they might be able to move back home.

Coquitlam Fire Chief Tony Delmonico confirmed Thursday the fire appeared to have started on the roof and that its source was definitely "construction-related," but he noted that he had not yet read the investigator's final report. Delmonico added that there were many different work crews on-site, including plumbers working in a suite, when the blaze was first reported on the roof and inside one unit.

The fire chief said two units suffered "massive" fire damage, three units were heavily damaged and most of the rest have smoke or water damage or a combination of the two.

"It's really preliminary but the damage looks to be in the millions," Delmonico said.

Most residents' pets had been safely accounted for by Wednesday afternoon, although "fewer than 10" remained unclaimed at the Coquitlam Animal Shelter, according to animal services director Andrea McDonald. In total, at least 17 cats, one dog and several fish - including one "very exotic shark" - had been rescued from the burned building, Delmonico said. One of five cats still missing on Wednesday morning was found later in the day with minor injuries requiring veterinary attention, he said.

Wayne O'Neill, president of the 99 Begin St. residents' strata council, said the overwhelming majority of residents in the building own their suites, with the exception of a few renters, and most have insurance on their belongings. He said even residents of those lower suites in the three-storey walk-up that suffered the least damage would not be allowed back into their homes for some time yet, stopping short of giving even a ballpark timeline out of fear of giving residents false hope.

"With the vast amount of infrastructure that's likely damaged - i.e., plumbing, electrical, gas - it could be a while. Our fire-protective systems is another big one that needs to be fully up to snuff before they can let people go back in," O'Neill said. "You flip on a light-switch and the lights don't come on, you turn on the tap and nothing comes out, then it's not inhabitable."

Vancouver-based ServiceMaster Restoration took control of the building late Wednesday to begin its appraisal of damages and start restoration work. It will determine when residents can move back in, according to Claudette Haire, Coquitlam's deputy director of emergency social services.

In the meantime, displaced residents of 99 Begin St. are instructed to wait for updates on the city of Coquitlam's website or call the 24-hour information line at 604-927-HELP (4357).