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‘It was surreal’: Residents of fatal Penticton condo fire still reeling

Click to play video 'Shaken residents of a fatal condo complex fire in Penticton are saddened to learn two people died in the blaze' Shaken residents of a fatal condo complex fire in Penticton are saddened to learn two people died in the blaze
Shaken residents of a fatal condo complex fire in Penticton are saddened to learn two people died in the blaze – Oct 28, 2020

Investigators were back on scene in Penticton on Wednesday, trying to determine what caused a condo to go up in flames.

The fire along the 400 block of Elm Avenue broke out just after 4 a.m., Tuesday, and claimed two lives.

“It’s certainly a very tragic event for the small community of Penticton,” Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson told Global News.

“We are a tight-knit community, especially the south end of town, where there’s a lot of residents that live in condominium complexes and have done for years, so they’ve grown to become a small family.

“When we have a loss like this in our community it’s felt deep-heartedly throughout our community.”

Read more: Two dead in Penticton condo complex fire

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While the victims’ names have not been released, many residents believe they know who they are.

“A wonderful, friendly couple is what I can say,” said a teary Crystal Coulombe, one of the displaced residents.

Coulombe said she was sleeping when she barely heard the hallway alarm.

“I was wearing earplugs and I could faintly hear the alarm in the hallways,” she said.

“I didn’t think it was real, and when I opened the door and the hallway was filled with black smoke, I ran and I got my cat.”

Click to play video 'Fire crews rescue barn owl from California wildfire' Fire crews rescue barn owl from California wildfire
Fire crews rescue barn owl from California wildfire – Oct 28, 2020

Her neighbour, Pat Tobler, said he grabbed his wife and dog and got out.

“It was surreal, to be honest with you,” Tobler said. “You see your home, all your neighbours out there, and everything is going up.”

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Police said the fire is not criminal in nature.

The fire chief is hosting a town hall meeting on Wednesday evening to update the displaced residents on the investigation and a possible cause.

Read more: WFPS warning about smoking risks after south Winnipeg condo fire

Residents will also be provided with any additional support they may need.

The displaced residents are being cared for by emergency social services for the time being.

Some residents Global News spoke with also wanted to extend their gratitude to caring community members.

“I was in my housecoat, bare feet, freezing,” said Tobler.

“And if it hadn’t been for the good people of Penticton coming by, giving us blankets and toques you know, there’s nothing I can do but thank them for their kindness.”

In addition to fire and police investigations, the BC Coroner’s Service is conducting a separate investigation to determine the exact cause of the deaths.