The Port Alberni RCMP are investigating a late-night fire that swept through the notorious Wintergreen Apartment building, claiming the life of a Nuu-chah-nulth man.
In a statement released May 19, 2023, the RCMP say they were called to a residential building in the 3600 block of Fourth Avenue on May 18, at approximately 11:12 pm.
“Officers assisted Port Alberni Fire Department to ensure residents were out of the units while the fire was extinguished. A body was located in a unit of the building and the site is secured for investigation,” reads the statement.
The police say that family of the deceased has been notified and have been provided local supports. A family member confirms that the man was from Huu-ay-aht, and asked for privacy as they deal with their loss.
Signs posted in the vicinity of the now boarded up building asks that anyone affected by the fire come to the Bread of Life for support services.
The Port Alberni RCMP General Investigation Section, RCMP fire investigator and frontline officers are investigating alongside the BC Coroner Service, Port Alberni Fire Department and the Office of the Fire Commissioner. They are investigating the cause of the fire and the fatality.
In July 2013, the first of the two Wintergreen apartment buildings was demolished after a fire destroyed one of the units, displacing seven tenants. Everyone escaped that fire without injury.
When the debris was cleared away from the first building, owner Randy Brown parked several old trailers on the now vacant lot, providing cheap, low barrier, albeit unsafe housing for people that would otherwise be on the streets.
Brown told Ha-Shilth-Sa that 14 tenants were displaced in the May 18th fire and that those tenants living in the trailers were able to remain in their homes.
“The Port Alberni Fire Department did an absolutely incredible job of containing the fire to the one suite and stopping the fire from spreading through the rafters,” said Brown, adding that the fire fighters are absolutely fantastic.
“It was very unfortunate that there was a loss of life, and my total condolences go out to the family and friends,” said Brown.
In a message to Ha-Shilth-Sa, Brown said that he had hoped to retire soon and has a signed agreement with the City of Port Alberni to have his trailers removed within 60 days of the opening of the tiny shelter village that is being developed on a lot adjacent to his Fourth Avenue property.
Walyaqil, the tiny shelter village being developed by the Port Alberni Friendship Center in partnership with BC Housing, CMHC, and the City of Port Alberni, will offer up to 30 tiny homes. The project has hit several delays and the PAFC could not be reached for a new residency date.
When it opens, Walyaqil, meaning ‘to be at home’ in the Nuu-chah-nulth language, will offer 20 units measuring 8’x12’. Each unit will be insulated and powered with a nearby trailer for showers and bathrooms.
Brown has noticed a positive change in the support system around Port Alberni. “It seems like there’s a new attitude at the shelter and they’re taking a lot of people they never took before, and also the other shelters are now open 24 hours a day, not like before where they had to close down at 9:00 in the morning till (sic) 5:00 in the afternoon and people didn’t know if they had a place to stay until 5:00 that night and had to wander the streets during the day,” he said.
Brown says there will be demand for his trailers, but he is moving on. “That is why, in good faith, I already moved three trailers off the property and told the city as I move them out, I would not be replacing them with others,” he added.
“I'm thinking that there's going to be at least $100,000 damage. It was uninsured but we will be working diligently to get it back and get everybody housed,” Brown stated.
He is hoping to have at least some of his tenants move back in pending inspections and repairs. “Although the fire was contained it did get into the trusses, so the trusses have been compromised and so it looks like the two suites on the back east side and the suite below will be shut down for a little while. I will be meeting with the electrical inspector along with my electrical contractor to discuss powering up the other suites,” Brown stated in a message.
According to the RCMP statement, the Bread of Life is assisting the residents displaced by this incident with immediate resources and will be working with partner agencies to support them.
If you have any information about this incident, please contact the Port Alberni RCMP at 250-723-2424.