A powerful blaze that ripped through a social housing complex in Victoria has destroyed a number of suites and left dozens of people homeless.

Fire crews were called to Evergreen Terrace, formerly Blanshard Court, on Hillside Avenue around 3 a.m. after a neighbour noticed flames and smoke coming from the back of the building and called 911.

They arrived to find a fully involved structure fire with heavy smoke and flames coming from both the front and back of the BC Housing subsidized building.

All occupants of the building got out before crews arrived, but two had to be taken to hospital for smoke inhalation and have since been released from hospital.

BC Housing later confirmed that two dogs perished in the fire.

At least three of the units were fully destroyed and another suffered heavy smoke and water damage.

Victoria Fire Rescue Acting Battalion Fire Chief Mark Robertson said the fire was a stubborn one for crews to bring under control.

“Due to the building construction and the type of the construction on the roof, it was very difficult to extinguish the fire,” he said. “There were some fire stops in place, but they didn’t prove to contain the fire, so it was very stubborn to get it out on the roof.”

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

Crews were expected to remain on scene throughout the day until late afternoon, Robertson said.

‘Bright orange blaze’

Resident Bonnie Owsianyk said she was sleeping when her husband woke her up in a panic.

“I went to bed and at about three o’clock in the morning I woke up and I heard my husband yelling for people to get out,” she said. “I went running downstairs and I went to my back patio door and I opened the curtain and all I saw was a bright orange blaze.”

She said her husband grabbed a garden hose to try to fight a fire in a neighbour’s yard.

Andrew Meeker said he was staying in a friend’s unit when the blaze broke out – and he heard screaming next door.

“I peeked around the corner…and a guy comes running out the front door with flames right behind him,” he said. “Two seconds later I look up and there’s somebody in the top window screaming and freaking out, completely engulfed in black, thick smoke.”

Meeker said he didn’t see any way she could get out the front door, so he told the woman to jump.

“It took almost a minute of trying to convince her to jump,” he said. “Eventually she ended up jumping, and me and the guy who ran out the front door…ended up catching her.”

Emergency Social Services were on scene of the fire housing displaced residents in alternate units.

With a severe shortage of rental housing in Greater Victoria, it’s unclear where residents who had their homes destroyed will go long-term.

“I’m sad, scared. I know all three people that were involved that have lost their homes. I don’t know what to do for them,” said Owsianyk.

How to help

BC Housing said vacant units at the building and its other developments would be used to re-house anyone displaced by the fire long-term.

Mustard Seed opened its doors early to help displaced families, and is currently accepting donations of coats and blankets for the victims.

Brent Palmer, director of stakeholder engagement, said the organization is trying to give as much moral and financial support as it possibly can.

“The people in the units, they already have their struggles, and I’m appealing to Victorians. Christmas is just a few weeks away, let’s make sure that this is just a memory that passes through very quickly and let’s help them out,” he said.

CFAX Santas Anonymous is accepting donations of cash or gift cards for department and grocery stores.

Those wanting to help can drop off donations to 1420 Broad St. and earmark them for “Blanshard Court fire victims” care of CFAX Santas Anonymous. 

A GoFundme campaign has also been launched, with the page stating 100 per cent of proceeds will go to assisting those affected by the blaze.