Oak Bay residents displaced for months by fire

Search for short-term accommodations proving challenging

Donna MacIntyre is among the Oak Bay residents in search of a longer-term short-term place to stay after a fire in her apartment building May 11.

About 30 people were displaced by the fire that spread from the second floor of the 1950s wood structure on Satellite Road.

“It’s an awful experience, you go out with the clothes on your back. Some people went out in their nighties and pyjamas,” MacIntyre said.

She credits all who were there that night, firefighters to hotel staff who all worked together in what appeared a fairly seamless effort to the fire victims themselves. She also credits the strata’s proactive work in fire systems for ensuring all residents got out – pyjamas or not – the evening of the fire.

“We had our fire system upgraded three years ago, it’s a blessing,” MacIntyre said.

They voluntarily added “mini piezo’s” says Rob Kivell, fire prevention officer for Oak Bay Fire Department.

“It was a voluntary upgrade and we encourage a lot of older buildings in Oak Bay to upgrade their systems,” Kivell said. “They were kind of a perfect model. They were compliant and wanting to move ahead.”

The piezo is a siren that ranges up to 90 decibels and is ideal for buildings with any hearing impaired residents.

“Basically they’re in the suites and in the corridors. They give off tremendous amount of sound,” Kivell said. “If anyone was sleeping in the building at the time it certainly woke them up.”

“These ring in the suite and the noise is so awful you can’t stay in your suite. So everybody was out (when the fire department arrived),” said MacIntyre. That includes a pair of residents in their 90s and a handful of 80-somethings.

“Who knows, it could have saved a life,” Kivell said. “It’s crucial that people, if they can make it out of the building and don’t have mobility issues, that they get out of the building. … A fire can double in size every 30 seconds so it doesn’t give you a lot of time.”

For those with mobility issues, the fire department encourages them to “protect themselves in place,” for example tucking a wet towel under the door and alerting 9-1-1 that they’re still inside so the fire department is aware.

“Every building is required to have a fire safety plan,” Kivell said. “They have to identify those who have mobility issues.”

The night of the Oak Bay fire, all residents found a place to stay, some at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, others with friends and family up-Island or locally like MacIntyre.

The day after, firefighters went in with lists from the residents to retrieve basics such as shoes and medication. A few days later restoration workers went in with longer lists, but residents have yet to return to their homes.

Now they’re looking at six to eight months displacement, some seeking furnished rentals for that period of time. Rental rates are slightly below one percent in Victoria and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation expects the demand will remain strong over the next 18 months, maintaining near or below one per cent.

“It’s proving to be a challenge,” said MacIntyre.