Residents near a huge overnight fire in Langley Township had never seen anything like it short of special effects on a movie screen. They describe red-hot embers falling like snow as firefighters battled the blaze that brought down a building complex in its final phase of construction near 80th Avenue and 208th street.
The fire began at around 9:30 p.m. on Monday and burned until the wee hours of Tuesday. Firefighters were still at the scene Tuesday afternoon pumping water on the smouldering rubble of collapsed buildings.
“That was the complex next to my house, I was on the roof with a hose and hot ashes were falling on me,” Jennifer Clark Houseman posted on Facebook. “Got my family out and I stayed behind to save my house.”
Acting coach Stephanie Halber was in her Willoughby Town Centre condo across the street when she got a knock on her door from a neighbour.
“We saw the embers coming up and initially we couldn’t tell which building was on fire,” Halber said. “It looked like a volcano had erupted, the embers were pouring down from the sky, hot ashes coming down like crazy. That’s when it got scary because we were worried other buildings could catch fire.”
As if they weren’t afraid enough already, the sound of buildings crumbling and collapsing was terrifying, Halber said: “There were sounds of explosions as the fire continued to burn and we didn’t know what was going off.”
The fire continued to spread and moments later it engulfed power lines and pitched the whole neighbourhood into darkness, other than the surreal glow of the blaze.
“It was pandemonium,” Halber said, describing the scene of people streaming out of their buildings with shoeless kids and family pets.
By the time Rob Wilton got there, fire crews had arrived.
Wilton, who is a team photographer for the Vancouver Giants, was at the Langley Events Centre and after the game spent about five hours at the site shooting photos until 3:30 Tuesday morning, posting them to his Instagram account. The fire was still going strong.
He returned Tuesday afternoon to witness firefighters still pumping water onto the smoking heap. At least two buildings were destroyed, only their elevator shafts remaining, and as many as six others look like they suffered severe damage, he said.
“The embers in the air last night were incredible,” Wilton said. “Today it looks like a war zone.”
He’s never seen anything like it, he said: “In a movie maybe, but not in real life.”
Wilton also recorded damage to neighbouring roofs and sidings. The fire was so intense that the homes across the street, on the north side of 80th Avenue, had siding melt, he said.
Postmedia News was unable to contact the developer, RDG Management Ltd. of Langley. The complex was called Alexander Square, a collection of one- and two-bedroom condos across from Willoughby Town Centre and was a presale sellout.
The air was still thick with heavy smoke Tuesday morning, Halber said, and she awoke with stinging eyes. But there were no reports of anyone being hurt.
The other silver lining, Halber said, was neighbours really pulled together, knocking on doors to make sure everyone was out, handing out flashlights, just generally showing concern for each other.
“Everybody was really supportive and helping each other,” she said. “During COVID you don’t really see anybody out and about, and in a weird way it brought the community together, everyone wanting to make sure their neighbours were safe.”