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'I heard two big explosions': Two dead in North Vancouver fire, 16 others injured

Vancouver Sun logo Vancouver Sun 2018-06-12 Behdad Mahichi

Disbelief and devastation gripped a close North Vancouver community after a fire killed a mother and her eight-year-old child, and injured at least 16 others early Monday morning.

Seventeen properties were destroyed, with about 70 people permanently displaced.

Flames were at least 100 feet in the air by the time emergency crews were called to Mountain Village Garden Apartments housing complex in Lynn Valley just after 2:30 a.m., North Vancouver RCMP Cpl. Richard De Jong said.

Residents reported hearing screams, along with multiple explosions before being told to evacuate their apartments.

We got out … and there were injured people laying on the side of the grass … a man whose hands were covered in blood,” said Tehra Dougall, who lives in the complex. “There were broken windows and people who had apparently jumped out of them.”

There’s quite a few kids around. A lot of families,” said Dougall’s daughter Edyn. “We were grabbing blankets to go help people. It was chilly out.”

Nearly 150 residents were transported by bus to both the local Safeway grocery store and then to the Mickey McDougall Community Centre for overnight shelter.

Witnesses told Postmedia that the woman, identified on Tuesday by friends as Narges Casnajad, and her seven-year-old son Sepehr died after getting trapped inside one of the burning buildings. The woman’s 14-year-old son managed to escape by jumping from a second-floor window onto a trampoline, while the father — who was separated from his family — survived by leaping off the balcony.

“When he jumped out, that’s when everything burnt down and (the others) got stuck under the fire,” said Dorsa Pedroud, who visited the family at the hospital.

Narges and Sepehr were called “beautiful souls” in a GoFundMe page set up for victims of the fire.

Smoke engulfed the nearby playground throughout the day, as more than 30 firefighters from both the District and City of North Vancouver hosed down hot spots that continued to smoulder on what structure remained.

Three residents told Postmedia that fire alarms for the two-storey apartment complex did not go off, and that the buildings do not have sprinkler systems. Residential units are given battery-powered alarms.

“You’d never think about being this close to such a tragic fire,” said Sabina Doyle, who lives in the building adjacent to the fire. “I thought it was kids having a party because there was all this yelling. Then I heard two big explosions.”

The families who lived in the burnt apartments were recognizable faces in the neighbourhood, said her husband Dennis.

“Of course, the pool (at the complex) here draws everyone out in the summer time. You’d see their kids out playing all the time,” he said.

The apartment compound was built in 1967.

North Shore Emergency Management director Fiona Dercole said they have set up a number of families in hotels for the time being.

“The first choice is to stay with friends and family. And if they don’t have people to stay with, we provide hotel accommodation up to three days,” Dercole said, adding that the organization is providing victim services to those who need emotional support.

A number of community and social media groups have already begun fundraising. A steady stream of funds was making its way to the GoFundMe page set up North Vancouver resident Jacqueline Diamond who used to live in the apartment complex.

“I knew everybody, and I need to help those that are still there,” Diamond told Postmedia. “We are mobilizing groups on Facebook as well so we can organize donations and take it to those who need them.”

Jeri Engen, the owner of nearby Kudzu Studio, said she will be holding art classes for parents and children throughout the day this Saturday, with all proceeds going to the victims of the fire.

“I live about five blocks from the apartment building, and this is a community that has been incredible to me at my time of need. Giving back is good,” Engen said.

The Lynn Valley Lions also announced they will have a trailer set up to accept donations during the Lynn Valley Days festival on June 15-16.

An RCMP arson unit, the fire department and the coroners service are all actively working on the investigation, although the cause of the fire remains unknown. The District of North Vancouver Fire Department said an assessment on the structural integrity of the building would also be required.

with files from Scott Brown, Lora Grindlay

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the ages of the Casnajad brothers.


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