Firefighters change air tanks before heading back into a 60-unit condominium complex at 1633 Dufferin Cres. where three units were heavily damaged by fire Thursday.

Firefighters change air tanks before heading back into a 60-unit condominium complex at 1633 Dufferin Cres. where three units were heavily damaged by fire Thursday.

UPDATED: Fire destroys three units in Dufferin Crescent condo complex

NANAIMO – Three units in 60-unit condo complex were heavily damaged by fire Thursday.

Seven people are homeless but no one was injured in a blaze that destroyed three condominium units in Nanaimo’s hospital district Thursday.

Firefighters were called out to The Fountains, a 60-unit condominium complex at 1633 Dufferin Cres., shortly before 5 p.m. when residents saw the fire start on the balcony of a second-storey unit.

“We were doing a floor-by-floor water shutoff inspection, because we’d had a recent water issue, and we were looking out the window when one of the neighbours saw that a fire had started on the balcony at unit 203,” said Mike Lumley, part-time caretaker for the complex.

Resident Charlotte Kinzie said she and her husband heard what sounded like ice falling from the roof.

“My husband went to look and there were already flames about a foot high on the [right] side of the balcony – down towards the bottom – and then it took about 10 minutes to get to the roof,” Kinzie said.

The fire spread up the side of the building, into the balcony of a third floor apartment, and within 10 minutes – about the time witnesses said the first firefighters arrived on scene – had spread into the roof of the building.

Capt. Ennis Mond, Naniamo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer, confirmed the fire started on the deck of the second-storey condo and quickly burned into one of the unit’s bedrooms.

“The sprinkler head inside the bedroom activated and suppressed the fire inside,” Mond said. “On the exterior the fire rolled around inside this balcony and extended up the exterior vinyl siding to the balcony above and caught that on fire and then spread into the roof area and into the soffits and that’s where the guys stopped it.”

Witnesses reported they thought the fire was triggered by an electric barbecue on the balcony that had allegedly been left on, but Mond eliminated that as the cause of the blaze during his investigation of the scene Friday morning, by which time he had yet to confirm what actually sparked the fire.

All told the flames heavily damaged one second storey and one third storey condo. A unit directly below the two condos affected by fire suffered heavy water damage.

Karen Lindsay, Nanaimo Emergency Services coordinator, said a family of four renting the condominium where the fire started is not insured and had been given two nights’ lodging by the city emergency program. The owner of that unit, the couple living on the ground floor and the single resident in the third floor unit are insured.

Other residents of the complex, estimated at between 80 and 100, were able to return to their homes Thursday night.

Once fire alarms in the building had been shut off, residents – many of them seniors – who had evacuated the building or returning home from work were temporarily sheltered in the building’s underground parking garage where they were tended to by emergency program staff.

“We went through and checked all the units and they were all safe, so residents were able to stay in their location,” Lindsay said.