Forewarned of fire

Residents living at Water’s Edge condominiums on Truswell Road warned Kelowna city council last year that a second building was being constructed far too close to their own and posed a fire risk. A year later, an enormous fire engulfed the new building.

Water’s Edge North, also known as phase two, collapsed after the blaze which started on the roof while a construction worker applied torch-on material. The fire jumped to the original building behind and gutted a large section of it, leaving more than 130 people searching for a home.

Council heard in 2016 that residents were concerned that this exact thing could happen.

“I think it would be a challenge for firefighters if there was ever a fire in either building to use that narrow space of 20 feet,” said strata president Jake Thiessen during a council meeting on Sept. 15, 2015.

“Fire protection is a problem,” he told council.

A list of over 30 people opposed to the application at 529 Truswell Road was presented to council, with a statement attached explaining the alley between the two buildings was too small and residents were concerned about how a fire could be tackled if one occurred.

“Our biggest concern as a strata council and residents is the variance going from three metres to zero metres in what has been referred to as the lane,” said Thiessen to council at the time. “The space is 20 feet between those buildings and has to be used by garbage trucks and any fire trucks that need to get in there.”

Water’s Edge resident Douglas Cebryk said when it came time for MKS Resources to request a rezoning application residents became concerned with the decreasing spacing between the two buildings.

“He requested a reduction to change it from three metres to zero, put it right on the lot line. That is basically 10 feet, that really reduces the ability to not only get emergency equipment and also a concern because it puts that building a lot closer to our building,” he said.

On the day of the fire, Cebryk said the trucks couldn’t and wouldn’t go down the alley, preventing them from accessing the fire.

“They couldn't reach the fire because it started at the bottom and raced up the side of the building with the tar paper,” said Cebryk.

The fire quickly jumped from the building under construction to the one directly behind, just as residents feared would happen.

“They were ineffective in dealing with the fire when it first started and it just got worse and worse and worse,” he said.

The blaze caused extensive damage to the first Water's Edge building. Today, the east section is being demolished and the centre and west wing are being stripped down to the studs and dry wall to evaluate the structural integrity of the building.

Now, residents are concerned that the reconstruction of Water’s Edge north will continue and it will be built in the exact same way, even after the devastating incident.

“We all agree this could have been prevented,” he said. “They should have had some safety precautions put in place for this guy working overtime and unsupervised and first and foremost the city should've never allowed for this building to be built in the proximity it was.”

Residents have been told it may be two to three years before they can return home.

“Now that it is done they should enforce the bylaw setbacks as they were originally intended. Give us some safety.”

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