Massive fire destroys Merritt apartment building

By James Peters
March 17, 2017 - 12:00pm Updated: March 17, 2017 - 5:43pm

MERRITT, B.C. — An apartment complex that was destroyed after a blaze broke out on Thursday in Merritt has left 60 people temporarily homeless.

Rescue crews have been on scene all day, trying to piece together what happened. The fire began at the Kengard Manor on Merritt Avenue and quickly spread to the entire building. 

Luckily, all of the residents of the apartment got out safely, including Debbie Walter. But she is left with nothing, walking out of the Merritt Civic Centre on Thursday with three grocery bags in her hands, everything she has in her possession. 

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"This is all I have, what I'm carrying and what I have on. That's it, that's all," said Walter after receiving a three-day accomodations voucher on Friday. "I feel like a burnt out bag lady, that's what I feel like, and it's awful. It's devastating, it's so devastating, traumatic, emotional." 

Walter, rushing to get out of the building when the fire broke out around noon, grabbed what she could. She left behind invaluable family photos she'll never see again.

"I probably should've take a few more minutes to grab personal items, maybe an overnight bag, personal pictures," she said. "Your life is in those pictures. Family pictures. But nobody did. Nobody took anything out of their home, no overnight bag, no pictures."

According to witnesses in the neighbourhood, the fire looked relatively small to begin, but flames grew as the afternoon went on.

"We were called to a commercial structure fire at the Kengard Manor, arrived to fire on the first and second floors. The fire ended up spreading upward into the roof assembly, where it travelled along until we were able to make it stop," said Merritt Fire Chief David Tomkinson.

The fire has left about 60 residents, including Walter, with nowhere to go, only granted three days in a hotel by the province.

Walter, as well as many other residents, don't have insurance either.

"Just trying to live day-by-day, and we're all helping each other," said Walter, who's been supporting her neighbours that were affected. "There's been lots of tears and lots of hugs. I'm sorry for myself, but everybody else, too."

Walter will be able to stay at the Super 8 motel until Monday. The city is working with the province to try and extend people's hotel stays, because beyond Monday, some residents like Walter have nowhere to go. 

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