A fire that ripped through a wood-frame building under construction and scorched the condominium complex next door changed the lives of some Murrayville residents in a matter of minutes.
A year later, a near-complete building sits on the site of the razed building, while condo owners next door have only recently moved back into their homes, which were merely licked by flames and soaked in water from fire hoses.
Now living behind scaffolding and a blue mesh veil, at least one of the building’s residents wants to know why life hasn’t yet gone back to normal.
Jill Pentecost woke around
4 a.m. on May 17, 2015, to see light coming from her living room. She thought someone had entered her condo and turned on the lights.
“Not being very brave, I was very brave that night and I jumped out of bed and ran into the living room to say ‘Who’s there?,’” said Pentecost.
“And it was just red.
“I knew it was a fire, so I just picked up my purse, put on my housecoat, and just left.”
Despite the fact her apartment suffered no fire damage, other than blown-out windows, it would be nearly 10 months before she slept in her corner apartment again. Her unit was one of 12 left vacant in 130-unit building during the months after the fire.
Pentecost spent a few weeks living with her daughter, and then a month in an expensive suite, paid for by her insurance company. The insurance company then told she had to find a more long-term place to stay, while her apartment was being restored.
“Which was difficult, because I hadn’t rented anything for 50 years,” she said.
All the while, Pentecost was trying to find out what the status of her home was and when she might be able to return.
“There was no contact between the contractors and the insurance and me,” said Pentecost.
“I gave up because they didn’t answer you. They didn’t answer your emails and they didn’t answer your phone calls. So I just thought, ‘I’ll just sit back and wait and see what happens.’”
Kathy Carlisle, the complex’s strata council president, said Pentecost’s experience of stress and frustration after the fire was common.
She said the restoration process has been complicated, with three different types of insurance — the owners’, the strata’s and the developer’s — trying to push responsibility onto each other and different contractors not acting in sync.
New windows were installed, but leaked during a storm in the autumn.
They were fixed, but this added another delay to the process of fixing the apartments and getting residents home, according to Carlisle.
Pentecost said the restoration company (whose name she did not disclose) did a good job of remediating water damage in her unit.
BC Hydro has charged Pentecost for electricity used in her apartment while she was not there. She said the bills were too high to simply be from her fridge, which she left plugged in and she suspects it to be from equipment plugged in by restoration workers. She has so far been unsuccessful in receiving reimbursement for the charges from her insurance.
Carlisle said two of the building’s residents moved into seniors’ homes as a result of the stress caused by the fire and its aftermath. She said that many of the residents have been suffering from nightmares as well.
Pentecost said while she hasn’t suffered from nightmares, she has been affected by the fire.
“I do have a fear of fire now, that I never had before. When I was living in this basement suite… [The TV] would flash red, and I would just jump because I thought it was another fire.”
Pentecost said that when she eventually moved back into her apartment, the lights from construction equipment across the street would also startle her.
Pentecost is back home now but her windows are obstructed by scaffolding with a blue mesh material over it as well as a plywood chute used for the restoration crew’s garbage.
“So it’s very dark in my place. It’s like being in a cave… It’s not good. I now know what cabin fever is,” said Pentecost.
Carlisle said she has been told the scaffolding will come down by the end of this month, but both she and Pentecost said they aren’t confident that will happen.
“Any timeline we’ve had, hasn’t happened,” said Carlisle.
Both Carlisle and Pentecost said they want people to know how difficult their year has been, so they can be better prepared if something similar were to happen to them.
“People should have really good insurance. And make sure you have additional living expenses when you get your insurance,” said Pentecost.
Carlisle said she is now thinking of people in northern Alberta and the experiences they must be having.
“You know, everybody sees the fire, like in Fort McMurray, they see the fire. But nobody has any idea of what you have to go through afterwards. It’s the afterwards that is very stressful,” she said.
Carlisle also expressed sympathy for White Rock residents displaced by a fire on Sunday.
Twelve months after the fire, which was initially called “suspicious” by investigators, there are no suspects, according Langley RCMP Cpl. Holly Largy.
Pentecost is hopeful her life will go back to normal soon and she will be able to sit on her patio this summer, after a long year.
“Let’s put it this way,” she said. “It’s been a horrible year; It’s been a very stressful year; And it still hasn’t come to an end.”
The consultant who wrote the plan for the restoration project declined to comment on whether the length of time it is taking to complete the repairs is normal or excessive.