July 02, 2015 - 11:30 AM
MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT SETS UP TEMPORARY LOCATION AFTER OFFICE BURNED TO THE GROUND
VERNON - The roof of a burning government office and podiatry clinic caved in shortly after firefighters were inside checking to ensure no one was trapped during a massive blaze Tuesday night in Vernon.
“They forced open the doors because they were locked and checked the whole building to make sure no one was in there,” deputy fire chief Lawrie Skolrood says of the June 30 fire. “It didn’t take long before the fire captain recognized there was some concern with the fire in the roof and got everybody out quickly.”
After ensuring no one was left in the building, firefighters turned to a defensive approach, focusing on preventing the fire from spreading to any nearby buildings in the area, such as the Petro-Canada gas station. Heavy winds heightened the fire risk, and flying debris even started a small fire about a block away on someone’s roof.
“We always err on the side of caution. We evacuated the fuel station and kept an eye on it from a standpoint of the fire spreading. In wind like we had, that’s always a possibility,” Skolrood says. “Everything can be in jeopardy in those kinds of situations.”
No one was injured in the fire, but the Ministry of Social Development Office and a podiatry clinic, North Okanagan Foot and Ankle, burned to the ground.
Firefighters battled the blaze for hours, and remain on scene Thursday watching for hotspots. Paper files and cabinets are still smouldering, and with a little wind, could start another fire, Skolrood says. Firefighters managed to retrieve records, files and laptops from the rubble Wednesday.
“Anything we could do as far as their possessions that they needed right now,” Skolrood says.
The fire department has now turned to investigating what caused the blaze in the first place. Indications are the fire started somewhere between the ceiling and the roof, Skolrood says. Given the fact the roof collapsed in several places, he suspects the fire was burning for some time before anyone noticed it.
In the course of the investigation, fire officials learned roofers were working on the building earlier in the day and left the site around noon or 1 p.m. The type of roofing they were doing likely required the use of a torch, but it’s too early to say if that work led to the fire, Skolrood says. The fire department continues to investigate the cause of the fire, but it is not considered suspicious.
“Between the ceiling and the roof is not a very easy place to start a fire,” Skolrood says.
The Ministry of Social Development has set up a temporary office location at the Service B.C. Centre in Vernon where clients will be able to pick up their cheques and have other immediate needs addressed, communications director Corinna Filion said in an email. The ministry has also set up a tent near the fire site where staff are on hand to make sure clients who show up with urgent needs know how to access services.
The ministry is continuing to provide financial assistance through electronic funds transfer and through the Kelowna office and clients can also call the ministry's toll free line to access services.
There were some paper files lost in the fire such as paper stubs, staff files and receipt books but client information is held electronically on a central system so staff can continue to access those records, Filion says.
The Service B.C. Centre is loacted at 3201 - 30 Street.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
— This story was updated at 11:43 a.m. July 2, 2015 to include information from the Ministry fo Social Development and again at 1:58 p.m. to say a temporary office has been set up at Service B.C.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015