Residents of a Merville apartment complex are still in a state of shock after witnessing their building go up in flames Tuesday in a fire which claimed the life of an elderly woman.

Amber Foster lives downstairs from where the fire broke out in the eight-unit Hillview Apartment building. She says a neighbour's scream alerted her to the blaze and she quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher.

"I just ran upstairs and just ran into the fire and started going as quick as I could," said Foster.

She was trying to get into a unit occupied by a 76 year-old man she says was like a father to her and his 64-year-old common-law partner of 25 years.

Foster says she could see the fire coming from underneath the bedroom door of the unit and knew that the couple was still in there.

"I knew that Len was still in there, I could hear him so we started screaming for Len and it was just absolutely horrifying," Foster said.

The senior's head finally popped out and then Foster and others dragged him down the stairs to safety.

"He's in ICU right now," Foster said. "He's got some lung problems, he's got quite a bit of smoke inhalation, he was probably in the fire for about 15 minutes."

Foster's mother, Laurel Mitchell, also lives in the complex and says she knew the couple well and was best friends with the female victim.

"I'm really worried about Len," said Mitchell. "He's in the hospital right now and he's got nothing. Everything is gone, he lost his two sons not even five years ago and he has no more family."

"These people were really sweet and they loved each other a lot and it's going to be really hard for him so if people can find it in their heart to help everybody — but he's really going to need a lot of help," Mitchell said. 

Emergency Support Services is currently housing all of the building's occupants in a Courtenay hotel for three days and the occupants are receiving assistance from the Red Cross. The victims are not sure when or even if they will be allowed to return to the building.

A GoFundMe account has been started for the occupants, aged from 12 to 76, who lived in the apartments. The account was created by a woman who is friends with some of those who have become displaced. 

Donations can be made to the fundraising campaign here