The cost of dozens of Langley Township firefighters putting out a blaze at an empty home will be charged back to the owner. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)

Vacant home’s owner to be charged for firefighting effort

The house wasn’t properly secured when the fire took place, Township alleges

The cost of fighting a fire in a vacant Brookswood home last month is being charged back to the property owner, because the building wasn’t secured properly, according to Langley Township.

The fire struck an empty house on a South Brookswood acreage on 200th Street near 20th Avenue.

It took 30 Township firefighters with six vehicles several hours to douse and mop up the last of the flames, starting at 6 a.m. on April 26.

With the house empty and with no gas or electrical connections, the cause of the fire was most likely arson, said Township deputy fire chief Bruce Ferguson.

“It was a vacant house that had been boarded up previously,” Ferguson told the Langley Advance Times. “Somebody got in there and set it on fire.”

The fire could have been deliberately set, or an accident caused by squatters setting a fire to keep warm or cook.

READ MORE: Residential fire shuts down 200th Street

Now the entire cost of the emergency response is being charged back to the landowners. The Township has regulations in place about properly securing abandoned properties, including boarding up and securing empty buildings.

“The safety of the Township is everyone’s responsibility,” said Bill Storie, senior advisor to council.

He said the incident is a reminder to owners that they are required to monitor and maintain their property, even if it is deserted, and for residents to be diligent and report any suspicious activity they may notice in their neighbourhood.

The home was surrounded by deserted RVs, boats, and “piles and piles of garbage,” according to Ferguson, and the debris helped the blaze spread.

When firefighters arrived, they didn’t even know how long the fire had been burning before someone noticed and called it in.

“Property owners of vacant structures are required to ensure they are secure and remain secure against unauthorized entry,” said Ruby Senghera, the Township’s bylaws manager. Property owners who fail to do so may be fined $500 per day and charged fees for Township resources, such as firefighters and inspectors.

When an abandoned building is identified, bylaw officers issue a letter to the owner, stating that the property needs to be boarded up and secured within a certain timeframe, Senghera said. Whether the property is waiting to be redeveloped, or the owners are living elsewhere, under Community Standards Bylaw No. 5448, property must be made secure against unauthorized entry or occupation, vandalism or other intentional damage, or fire hazard.

Members of the public who have any concerns about a vacant house are asked to contact Bylaws at 604-534-3211 or bylaw@tol.ca.

“If you see a light on or notice people coming and going when they shouldn’t be, even if you simply haven’t seen the occupants of a home living there for some time, let the Township know and we can investigate,” Storie said.

Securing abandoned buildings is also required through Fire Prevention Bylaw No. 4956, to protect the property, surrounding areas, and emergency responders. Those who do not follow the requirements can find themselves on the hook financially: if a fire occurs, cost recovery can be sought by the Fire Department from property owners.

“It can get very costly,” said Ferguson, noting that a fire engine and crew costs $600 per hour, and the use of a quint – which serves the dual purpose of an engine and a ladder truck – and crew costs over $1,300 per hour.

Anyone who notices smoke or flames should immediately call 911.

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