Displaced by fire, Surrey resident recalls escaping home and watching it burn

At least 20 people have been displaced, according to Surrey Fire.

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James White is still in shock at how quickly his Surrey home and all his family’s belongings were consumed by flames.

“We stood in the park watching the devastation as the flames ripped our lives and others’ apart,” White said of the Aug. 7 fire that left him, his girlfriend Lyndee, his 69-year-old father and nearly 20 others homeless after it tore through a housing complex in Surrey’s East Clayton area Wednesday evening.

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White was watching TV around 6:30 p.m. when he noticed smoke coming from his neighbour’s garage. He rang the neighbour’s doorbell to alert him to the smoke. White saw the neighbour run to the garage but when he opened the garage door, it caused a backdraft, sending flames shooting up to the roof.

“It was that moment I realized the fire was going to spread,” said White, speaking to Postmedia by text message.

He ran downstairs to alert his father, who has dementia. White got his disoriented father and dog out of the house and took them to the nearby park where other neighbours had gathered. Lyndee was in Mexico at the time volunteering with an animal rescue shelter.

White ran back to the home to get his truck out of the garage. By the time he went back for his prized Harley Davidson motorcycle, flames were coming through the wall of the garage and smoke burned his lungs. He got the Harley out and retreated to safety.

“I wanted to go back in to grab more of my belongings but I could see through the front door it was too late,” he said.

Surrey fire
Four homes were destroyed and six others damaged after a fire in the 192000-block of 73 Ave. In Surrey, Wednesday, August 10, 2023. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

White, who had been renting the home for two years, had contents insurance but he’s devastated thinking of the items that can’t be replaced. A boxing glove and punching bag that belonged to his biological father were the only connections to a man he never got to meet.

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The crafts and art projects made by Lyndee’s daughter and a Christmas tree angel that belonged to Lyndee’s grandmother are gone, as is Lyndee’s 1980s toy collection including a Glow Worm, E.T. plush toy, Care Bears and Cabbage Patch dolls.

“Above all, we are so grateful that no lives were lost,” White said. But witnessing the loss of his home is “something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”

The Surrey Fire Service, which deployed dozens of firefighters and 10 water tenders to fight the blaze, has asked Surrey RCMP to investigate the cause.

The house fires in Surrey came two days after a suspicious fire destroyed four homes in a Port Moody townhouse complex.

Three people were rescued from their balconies after fire broke out around 4:40 a.m. Monday in the 2000 block of Panorama Drive in the Heritage Woods neighbourhood.

Port Moody fire department on scene following a suspicious fire on the 2000 block of Panorama Drive in Port Moody, B.C. on August 7, 2023.
Port Moody fire department on scene following a suspicious fire on the 2000 block of Panorama Drive in Port Moody, B.C. on August 7, 2023. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Several online fundraising campaigns have been started for three displaced families.

Taryn and Lucian had just bought their first townhome “and were eager to start their next chapter of their lives together,” according to a Go Fund Me page started by a neighbour. They are expecting their first child in January and they’ve lost all their possessions.

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Dayna Harper, and her kids Kyle and Sarah, also lost their home, belongings and their family cat Dobby, according to her sister-in-law who created the Go Fund Me page.

Another family displaced is a single mother named Seantry and her two teenage sons.

Seantry, an “amazing compassionate veterinarian…experienced every mother’s worst nightmare, trying to round up the kids and the animals to escape a massive fire. Thankfully she and the kids got out but a few animals were not as lucky,” a friend wrote on the fundraising page.

Three people were taken to hospital with what are believed to be non-life-threatening injuries. Port Moody police said major crime detectives are investigating the cause of the fire.

Const. Sam Zacharias, a spokesman for Port Moody police, said detectives are speaking with witnesses and reviewing evidence, including video from the scene. Anyone with information who has not yet talked to police is asked to contact the major crime section at 604-461-3456.

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