The owner of a business destroyed by a fire at a neighbouring drug lab in Chilliwack is suing the landlord and the tenant of the adjacent business.
Chilliwack RCMP confirmed the dramatic fire in an industrial building on May 2, 2019 on Fourth Avenue was connected to a drug lab.
But Target Steel & Sea Containers owner Steve Heaps isn’t focusing his lawsuit on the alleged illegal activity in the unit next to his business. Instead, his lawsuit is using an independent fire expert’s report to point out that the building was not designed for two tenants and, illegal or legal, the volume of chemicals being stored next door should have prompted regulatory action.
“The extent to which presence of chemicals related to ordinary business activities of the east tenant or otherwise to some other form of nefarious activities, as suggested by RCMP documents, is immaterial in applying the storage requirements of the (B.C. Fire Code).”
That’s from the March 10, 2022 report prepared by Peter Senez, owner of Senez Fire Science and Engineering.
Back in 2019, soon after the fire, RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve Vrolyk confirmed that chemicals were removed from the destroyed building on the corner of Nowell Street, and an investigation was being considered under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The massive fire on May 2 started at around 10:30 a.m. in the building on the property that is adjacent to residential homes on both Nowell and Third Avenue. Witnesses report hearing a large explosion before the fire started and several explosions could be heard during the blaze. Smoke could be seen across the city as Chilliwack Fire Department crews knocked the fire down, and were able to protect nearby houses.
Speculation that the fire was a drug lab was immediate as officers in hazmat suits entered the rubble at least twice, and several officers from the drug squad were on scene investigating.
As of July 6, 2022, no charges had been laid in connection with the incident, according to Court Services Online.
The civil case launched by Heaps is against the landlord, Monica Christine Koenders, and Tony’s Flooring, specifically name is Constantine Constantinescu and Nonny Constantinescu.
A 15-day trial is scheduled to start June 5, 2023, more than four years after the fire.
Exasperated by how long the civil case has taken to get to a court date, Heaps decided to go to the media to go public.
“With the time it’s taken to go to court, how do you expect a person to survive?” he asked. “I don’t know if I can make it (to the trial date). Every day I have to figure out how I’m going to pay the bills. It’s very belittling to me, and I’ve never had been through that before.”
While his business is destroyed, the landlord told him there was no insurance, he said.
According to Senez’s fire investigation report, the quantity of barrels of chemicals in the unit even visible after the fire far exceeded what is allowed, and the building should have been upgraded.
Further, Senez found the two units were separated by a wall that did not fully extend to the ceiling, a factor that led to the increase spread of the fire. There were also no automatic sprinklers in the building.
“The presence of automatic sprinklers would have had a high probability (of) reducing the overall fire development and propagation by controlling and suppressing the fire,” Senez concluded.
“The presence of the chemicals exacerbated the spread of fire to building and the adjoining tenancy for which the building was inadequately designed.”
The Progress was unable to contact the Constantinescus or Koenders to comment on the lawsuit.
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