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Fire investigation underway

A firefighter sprays water on the last embers of a multi-unit apartment building fire that occurred in Stephenville last Wednesday, November 3rd and resulted in one resident being airlifted to St. John’s for medical treatment. – © Jaymie L. White

By JAYMIE L. WHITE

Special to the Appalachian

STEPHENVILLE — An investigation continues into a fire that took place a week ago on Wednesday morning, Nov. 3 that left a residential building with heavy damages. Corporal Jolene Garland, Media Relations Officer for RCMP NL said they arrived on scene shortly after 9:30 a.m.

“Bay St George RCMP were called to a residential fire at a home on Georgia Drive in Stephenville,” stated Cpl. Garland. “An occupant inside the home was taken for medical treatment of burns sustained during the fire.”

The Stephenville Fire Department also responded to the scene once the call came in at 9:36 a.m.

A fire department spokesperson said the unit located at 56 Georgia Drive was completely engulfed in flames by the time that firefighters arrived, and it took 30 minutes for them to get the fire under control. One other unit also sustained fire damage and the remaining seven units all suffered smoke damage.

Jaime Bourgeois, whose mother lived in the unit next to the one where the fire originated, shared that her mom was sound asleep when the fire broke out. Her mother woke up to what she describes as ‘banging noises’.

“She thought it was just someone doing something next door. She tried to go back to sleep, but the noises continued,” said Bourgeois. “So she decided to get up. She went downstairs and immediately saw smoke billowing into the porch area by the front door.”

Bourgeois said her mother quickly ran to get her dog that was asleep in the living room, her jacket and her purse next to the door, and ran outside in her robe and sandals.

“It was only her and her dog in the apartment and they both made it out unscathed, physically,” shared Bourgeois. “My Mom’s apartment, while now condemned, suffered mostly smoke damage, other than a few places directly hit by the fire. We are still assessing the damage, which also includes water damage. It seems most material items will not be salvageable, however we think a few appliances and some personal items can be saved.”

Bourgeois said that when she drove past her mother’s building around 9:00 a.m. there were no indications of a fire.

“The fire was in full swing by 9:30 a.m.,” said Bourgeois. “ I find it difficult to remember when things got under control as, when I arrived, I was focused on finding my mother. But smoke and all (were) fully under control around 11:00 a.m. or so.”

Bourgeois said her mother was accommodated in a hotel by the Red Cross for three days. Meanwhile Bourgeois and her husband prepared their home for her mother’s arrival.

“She will stay with us while they prepare another apartment for her. We aren’t really sure of the timeline at this moment. We’re just really happy she is safe,” said Bourgeois.

The neighbour, in whose unit the fire originated, was later confirmed by the RCMP to have been airlifted to St. John’s for treatment of serious injuries. Bourgeois asks everyone to keep her mother’s neighbour in their prayers.

“She has third degree burns over a large portion of her body and is in care in St. John’s,” said Bourgeois. “In addition, we are looking for her cat, a medium sized female calico named Faith. We aren’t sure if she made it out or not.”

As of publication deadline, community members have been unable to locate the missing cat.

One thing Bourgeois noticed when she went to her mother’s during the fire, was that the fire hydrant being used by the fire department was closer to Georgia Convenience than it was to the blaze. That led to questions regarding the functionality of hydrants to the fire and whether or not it affected response times. Bourgeois said if the fire hydrants aren’t working properly, that is a major issue for the safety of the residents in the area.

“Within this area of Georgia Drive and Florida Loop there are 15 apartment buildings with at least four units each. Add to that houses, the nature trail, and even the library and Pentecostal church, the risk for an enormous amount of damage is too great for this issue to be ignored,” said Bourgeois. “While I appreciate the effort of our town to beautify Stephenville, I feel safety is a much greater concern and the fire hydrants are far from the only issue. This area of town has gotten busier over the years with added developments, especially with traffic. However the infrastructure hasn’t changed and people are much more at risk.”

Town Manager Mike Campbell said one hydrant was out of service but is on list for replacement, and the second hydrant failed when the fire department attempted to use it, although it had been used as recently as August 2021. Campbell stated there was no loss or delay in applying water to the fire, and that regular maintenance is done on the fire hydrants in Stephenville.

“The town replaces about 10 or so hydrants per year under the maintenance program,” said Campbell. “We also replace another four to eight under Municipal Capital Works Projects. Our maintenance crew is currently at Tip Top Auto replacing a hydrant. A new hydrant was recently installed on Montana Drive.”

jaymielwhite@gmail.com

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