The fire broke out in the early evening as residents were getting home from work or sitting down to dinner.
The fire alarms rang at the Madison Place condo building, in the 19700 block of 56th Avenue, around 5:30 p.m. on Friday, July 17, sending residents running from the second major condo fire in Langley City in just four years.
Residents recounted a scramble for safety.
“We were right underneath it,” said Tyler Tellier, who lived on the ground floor. “It was just a matter of grab the animals and get out.”
He and his wife made it out of the building with their dog, their cat, and not much else.
Passerby stopped and tried to alert residents, but it by the time the fire was visible, it was too late to do much of anything.
Surrey’s Ed Mallett was driving by when he looked over to see a single apartment on fire with flames shooting out off the balcony.
“I put on my four-way flashers, got out, ran up the ramp to the front door of the building,” he recalled. He banged on the front door and considered trying to contact someone in the building through the intercom.
Then he heard a crackling sound behind him.
It was molten plastic, on fire, dripping down where he’d been standing moments before stepping into the doorway alcove.
“The right side was clear so I bolted out of the alcove and ran down the opposite ramp,” Mallett said.
Streets near the condos filled up with people – displaced residents held cat carriers and dogs, and greeted family members who had come to help. Neighbours lined streets and watched as the flames raced through the upper part of the building, gutting the roof and top floor of the structure.
Fortunately, no one died in the blaze.
There was one major rescue the night of the fire, however.
Resident Michelle Buchan was reunited with her dog, Meelah, who was found safe but damp in a ground-floor unit.
“I just lost it when I realized it was my building and she was in there,” Buchan said.
It was a three-hour wait before firefighters could go in to look for Meelah.
“I knew they would do anything they could to get her out so I just had to wait,” Buchan said.
When a firefighter brought Meelah out, soaking wet from sprinklers activated in the building, Buchan crumpled to 56th Avenue in tears.
“I will forever be grateful for the firefighters,” Buchan said.
“Crews were four blocks away when they got the call – so they were fairly close,” Langley City Fire Chief Rory Thompson said of the fire.
But by the time they got there, the fire had already crept down from the top floor.
“There was heavy fire already on the third and fourth floor when they arrived,” Thompson said. Units from both the City and Township were on scene and it was one of those ones that was well involved.”
It was not what Langley City firefighters wanted to see – a repeat of a fire they had fought four years before at the Paddington Station condo, less than a mile away on Fraser Highway.
It remains uncertain, six months later, what caused the fire.
But the spread was much like that at Paddington Station, where a discarded cigarette or other smoking material is believed to have been left smouldering on a top-floor patio.
The fire is believed to have started outside the building, and then gone up into the top floor.
Built in 2007, Madison Place was not required to install sprinklers in attics or on balconies.
That allowed the fire at Paddington Station to take hold, rushing through the attic – the provincial government changed the building code to require balcony and attic sprinklers in all low-rise condos after the 2016 fire.
Whatever the cause, the Madison Place fire left dozens of families displaced, and like the Paddington Station fire, it unleashed a flood of aid from the community.
There were a number of GoFundMe websites started before the fire was completely doused the morning of July 18th, many started by relatives of individual tenants.
SouthRidge Fellowship Church teamed up with local businesses to offer a socially-distanced go-kart fundraiser in mid-August, in addition to handing out $10,000 in SuperStore vouchers to residents who had lost most of their clothes and personal possessions to smoke, fire, and water damage.
Opus Art Supplies passed the hat among customers in the wake of the fire and collected $600, which was matched by another $600 from the Downtown Langley Business Association.
Unlike Paddington Station, the damage at Madison Place was not so severe that the building was torn down to the foundations.
But as of December, work crews were still working to repair the extensive damage.
The Langley Advance Times reached out to local property management company, NAI Commercial, about progress on the rebuild, but the firm had no comment.