96-year-old woman helped from burning building in Vancouver

Residents of an apartment building in Vancouver’s West End helped carry a 96-year-old woman down 15 flights of stairs while flames erupted from a suite.

The fire started just after 6 p.m. Thursday inside an apartment on the 14th floor of the building at Comox and Thurlow streets.

Lily O’Hearn, 96, was living directly above and residents at the scene told CTV News Vancouver she was having trouble getting down the stairwell.

“(There were) two people that were trying to carry that lady alone, it was complicated,” said Antonia Chabburt.

He and his cousin, Benjamin, stepped in to help.

“(They were) trying to bring her down stair by stair, luckily we found her on the way,” Benjamin Chabburt said, adding the smoke was so intense it was “absolutely unbreathable.”

O’Hearn made it outside and was looked over by paramedics at the scene. Her daughter, Fran Thomas, arrived shortly after and was seen running up to the building, visibly distressed, before she saw her mother sitting safely in a chair.

“Ninety-six and she hasn’t been out of the house in three years,” Thomas said. “They had to carry her down (from) the 15th storey… how wonderful, what a community. I’m just glad that they took her.”

Assistant Chief Trevor Connelly with Vancouver Fire Rescue Services says the 14th floor unit was “fully involved in fire,” though crews managed to put it out within an hour. It was mostly contained to the one apartment because the door was closed, though apartments above were damaged from flames shooting out the windows.

Despite the intensity of the fire, no one was injured.

“Turns out the occupant had gone out for dinner which is a good thing,” Connelly said. “This is an older building, there’s no sprinklers (and) it’s unclear if it had working smoke detectors at the time.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation.