An unusual number of structural fires have destroyed buildings in the Greater Victoria Area over the last several days. On Jan. 3, fires broke out in the 3300 block of Shelbourne Street as well as 2521 Empire St., while only two days prior firefighters battled a blaze at 5124 Cordova Bay Rd.
The Saanich Fire Department responded to a structure fire in the Tru Value Foods on Cordova Bay Road at 10:14 a.m., Jan. 1, extinguishing a small fire inside a freezer display unit. Although the fire was quickly put out, three staff members were treated on the scene by members of the British Columbia Ambulance Service for minor smoke inhalation. The Saanich Fire Department estimates the fire and smoke damage at $25 000.
The first of the two fires on Jan. 3 broke out around 12:30 p.m. at 2521 Empire St. and lead to the shutdown of much of Bay Street for nearly an hour. Initial police responders evacuated the house, as well as neighbouring occupants. Although firefighters reached the scene within minutes and put the fire out quickly, much of the structure was already engulfed in flames, causing an estimated $160 000 in damage. One victim was taken to hospital with minor smoke inhalation, and another was treated on the scene for minor burns to the hand.
Later the same day, firefighters rushed to another fire in a home at 3319 Shelbourne St., just before midnight. The Saanich Fire Department responded with a command unit, two engines, two ladders, a rescue unit, and 18 firefighters. Although two occupants escaped without injuries, firefighters were unsuccessful in their efforts to resuscitate the family dog. Estimated losses were tallied at over $300 000.
While no official causes for any of these fires have been announced, it is not uncommon for sometimes fatal fires to break out in the region. In December, a large fire on Obed Avenue. also required the response of 18 firefighters and caused over $100 000 in damage. In Feb. 2013, a fatal house fire on the 1300 block of Johnson St. following a Friday night party resulted in the deaths of three people (two of them university students), and a cat. In that incident, although the home was only 50 feet away from the closest fire hall, high winds helped fuel a blaze that firefighters believe had started on a couch on the front porch.
Eighty-five per cent of fire fatalities occur in the home, and 40 per cent of accidental fire victims are asleep at the time of the fire. Of these incidents, kitchen fires account for the largest percentage of fire cause, and the majority of victims do not have working smoke detectors in their homes, which appears to have been the case in the recent Shelbourne Street fire.
Last year, British Columbia experienced 6 780 household fires, which resulted in 231 civilian injuries and 35 fatalities. B.C. suffers a higher fire fatality rate than Alberta or Ontario, though this number is lower than the national average.