No sign of woman after fire
Nonagenarian believed to have perished in raging house fire
Fire crews were unable to locate the remains of a 94-year-old woman believed to have perished in Wednesday’s house fire at 3923 Lakeside Dr. in Penticton.
“We are now transferring the investigation to the RCMP and it looks like this is going to become a missing person’s file,” Penticton fire Chief Larry Watkinson said Thursday evening after a day of searching.
“RCMP, BC Coroners and the Penticton Fire Department collaboratively worked towards finding the victim by using a small piece of equipment to take apart the heavily damaged structure remains,” he said.
“It’s hard to believe that we haven’t been able to find anything. We’ve got 12 sets of eyes on it. We were working with heavy pieces of equipment and plucking the thing apart down to the foundation and nothing. It’s frustrating for everyone because we all want closure.”
Fire broke out at the home around 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday. Within a matter of minutes, the house was fully involved with flames.
“It went up in literally 30 seconds,” said neighbour John Vassilaki, who watched in horror with others from several doors down. “I could not believe how quickly the house went down.”
Penticton’s fire department was aware of the house due to previous inspections. The woman, whom the Herald has chosen not to identify, lived for many years in the house, which was cited for hoarding and unsightly conditions. The house was built with older construction and there was a lot of open timber.
As a result of a strong south wind and a large cedar tree that was engulfed in flames, the fire pushed its way to the neighbouring home at 3919 Lakeside Dr., located directly beside Skaha Marina.
The homeowners at 3919 Lakeside Dr. are Al and Dorothy Mansfield, who own the White Spot restaurant in Penticton, which burned to the ground in an early morning fire in June 2011. (The restaurant was later rebuilt and reopened.) The original owner, who designed and lived in the house for many years, was former mayor Mike Pearce.
“We just got out with the clothes on our back,” Al said. “It’s very devastating for us but the phone has been ringing off the hook. People in Penticton have been wonderful. At least 15 people have invited us to stay with them.
“I was running around that night and a man I didn’t know — he worked for RickLyn Renos — came along and gave me his coat. He even offered us a place to stay for the evening.”
Al said both he and his wife have some smoke in their lungs and he pulled a hamstring on the night of the fire.
The couple’s housekeeper was not home at the time but has suffered significant financial hardship. Firefighters were able to recover her passport, but nothing else.
A house located to the south of the primary residence experienced only minor damage, which included several broken windows and paint blistering. The owners of the third house were not home at the time.
Fire crews remained on the scene overnight.
In total, 32 firefighters and three officers from the Penticton Fire Department battled the blaze using five pieces of equipment. Watkinson said the response time was quick and firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading up a bank to the Wiltse area that’s above Lakeside Drive.
The cause of the fire remains undetermined, but it is not considered suspicious.
With the use of heavy machinery, Penticton firefighters searched endlessly on Thursday for the remains of a 94-year-old woman who was believed to have died in Wednesday’s house fire on Lakeside Road. Her file is now considered a “missing person’s file.”