The fire that tore through the old Mussallem Motors building on 223rd Street and Lougheed Highway in downtown Maple Ridge Nov. 10, started in an enclosed attic space inside the building.
“The fire burned in an area that was in a void area so it was hidden from the interior of the building so to speak,” explained Maple Ridge fire chief Howard Exner.
“So it took a long time for the fire to grow to the size so it could escape the void and actually trip the fire alarm initiating devices inside the building,” he said.
It was about this time that the fire then became visible to people who were walking or driving by.
“We got our first 9-1-1 calls from the alarm company. We got secondary 9-1-1 calls from people who could see the fire,” said Exner.
Although the fire is still being investigated by multiple agencies, Exner said, there is no evidence to support that the fire was human caused or naturally caused.
Exner noted that it’s more difficult for investigators to ascertain the exact igniting object or where a fire originated the longer the fire burns.
“What we do is we start eliminating other possibilities and when we eliminate all other possibilities whatever we’re left with is probably going to be the truth. And that’s where we are still working,” he said.
Alan Utting, owner of AK Designer Home Improvements, has leased 90 per cent of the building from the Mussallem family for the past four years.
He was notified about the fire at 8:17 p.m. by the fire department.
It was still burning at midnight. There was a huge plume of smoke, and the smell of the burning building could be detected all over downtown Maple Ridge.
Mayor Nicole Read, on Facebook, commended the Maple Ridge fire department for its response.
“Our fire crews are amazing people. Fighting a huge blaze. So proud of who they are and what they do to keep us safe,” she said.
Lougheed Highway, through downtown, was barricaded, as were some side streets.
Firefighters remained on scene Saturday, when a westbound section of Lougheed Highway was still closed.
Maple Ridge Fire Chief Howard Exner said the cause of the fire is not yet known.
Utting was at a loss, as well.
“I have no idea how this started.”
He said Friday was a normal day at work.
There had been no issues with the building, which he said had been listed for sale since he moved in.
But, he added, it couldn’t be sold until site remediation work was completed as the site used to contain oil tanks.
Utting said the building had no other tenants, although six or seven movies were shot there in the past four years.
His business was in home renovations – flooring, kitchens, bathrooms, windows.
He’s not sure if any of his inventory or the building itself can be salvaged.
The roof of the building collapsed in the fire.
Utting said no one was injured.
“Everybody is safe. That’s the main thing to me.”
But he has no business to operate now, nor a place to operate from, and he has a family to support.
“I’m trying to see a way forward,” he said.
“Right now, I just have to wait and see. But it’s hard to remain positive.”
The fire department had 12 fire trucks and 60 firefighters on the scene. They used a tower truck that pumps out 2,000 gallons of water per minute.
Exner said the building is not stable, and that has hampered efforts by investigators to determine the cause of the fire.
The 1940s-era construction is made from concrete block exterior walls that are mostly un-reinforced. The timber and wood structure of the roof has been “badly compromised” by fire damage, and that has created a potential risk of walls collapsing.
A structural engineer will have to determine whether it is safe for fire investigators to enter, said Exner.
He said the building was obviously severely damaged, and engineers will also have to determine whether it is a total loss.