Two fires, dead pets, and lots of anger: BC family speaks of traumatic two months (PHOTOS)

Jan 25 2023, 8:26 pm

On December 24, Makayla Carefoot Wilson was looking forward to being done work so she could be with her family. Instead, she abruptly rushed home early after receiving a text from her sister telling her their apartment building was on fire.

Coquitlam Fire Deputy Chief of Operations Scott Young said crews found a significant fire that broke out in the stairwell landing around 9:40 am.

“The Fire Department determined that due to the products of combustion and the removal of fire separations, the building was uninhabitable,” Young said. He added that the building underwent extensive smoke damage as well.

Carefoot Wilson is one of 26 residents who were displaced on Christmas Eve.

Two weeks later, she returned to work hopeful that “we can all go back to normal.”

“But… maybe I jinxed it,” she added.

Around 5 pm, her phone buzzed. When Carefoot Wilson answered she said she could hear her neighbour crying.

“Makayla, I’m so sorry, but I can see your apartment building and it’s on fire again,” she recalled her neighbour telling her.

“As soon as she said that, I just had this bad, bad, bad, bad, bad feeling,” Carefoot Wilson continued.

In a group chat, Carefoot Wilson’s neighbours that lived near the building uploaded videos of the fire for her to see. When she watched the clip she realized, “That’s my bedroom that’s on fire.”

“I still struggled to look at it… That’s where I slept for most of my life since I was a child. That’s where all my belongings are and my memories.

“I immediately started crying.”

Makayla Carefoot Wilson

“How does it catch on fire again?”

Before she arrived on the scene, Carefoot Wilson said she wondered, “How does [the building] catch on fire again?”

“There’s no heat, there’s no water, there’s no electricity on this building. There’s nobody living inside of it,” she emphasized.

She also claims she was told there would be 24/7 security around the building.

Crews responded to the fire around 5:00 pm on January 9, according to Deputy Chief Young.

“This fire was immediately identified as suspicious since the building was unoccupied and there was no electricity supplied to the building at the time,” he said.

Carefoot Wilson said that the security company that Concert Properties hired had “let us down.”

Even now, she said she wonders “where were [security]?”

“I really want answers… Because they should have been watching. They should have been aware that somebody went into the building.”

Family worries about pets left behind from December fire

As Carefoot Wilson made her way to the apartment she called her family. 

Carefoot Wilson has been living with her family in the Whitgift Gardens building since 2005. She lives with her sister and brother who are also in their 20s. They share an apartment on the first floor with their mother and 17-year-old cousin. Since the fire on December 24, they’ve been living in a hotel. 

Makayla Carefoot Wilson

When she got ahold of them and broke the news to her cousin, she said, “his first thought was, ‘my rats are in there.'”

When Carefoot Wilson’s family and other building residents were asked to evacuate after the fire in December, Young said fire crews worked with the residents to remove personal belongings and pets.

Carefoot Wilson’s family helped fire crews remove their cats that hadn’t already escaped from their open patio door. But she said they had to leave behind their rats and gerbils, as their cages were too big to carry.

However, she stresses they did not leave them without begging fire crews and Concert Properties to find a way to remove the pets.

“We wanted them out. Even if we didn’t have anywhere to put them, we would have figured it out. They did not deserve to be left behind,” she said, admitting that she and her family thought the rats would be okay since they are “resilient.”

“They have a lot of food in their cage and… maybe there’ll be okay until we can move back in. That’s all we can hope for, right?”

Carefoot Wilson claims the Concert Properties and fire crews knew there were animals in the building.

In a response from the Coquitlam Fire Department, it said, “We had no indication that any pets were left behind.”

In Concert Properties’ response to Daily Hive, it said it was the residents of the unit who chose to leave the rats behind. Concert said it didn’t know there were pets still in the unit until several days after the fire (approximately December 28).

“By then the building had been secured by the Coquitlam Fire Department, and we were told that no one was able to enter the building. The process to re-enter the building would have required City approval, and the City was effectively closed for the holidays,” the statement reads. “When this was relayed to the residents of this suite, the response we received was that they had left food for them. That’s where things were left prior to the second fire on January 9, 2023.”

“Somebody really failed him and they failed us”

When Carefoot Wilson finally arrived to see what was remaining of her home, she described what she saw as a “black hole.”

She said the sight of her room brought her to tears and she told first responders about the pets left inside.

Makayla Carefoot Wilson

In a statement to Daily Hive, Young confirmed the pet rats were found dead when crews went in to retrieve them.

“I’m so angry on behalf of my little cousin who’s already been through so much… Losing everything he had on Christmas Eve, leaving his rats behind, only for them to die in a fire… That’s so traumatizing for him. He hasn’t recovered. He’s in a state of shock. Somebody really failed him and they failed us,” she emphasized.

“Why didn’t they get those rats out? Why didn’t they get these living creatures out? I know they’re just rats to some people… but they were his babies. They were his family, and they were killed, and no one deserves to go out that way.”

The January 9 fire did not spread past the room on the first floor and was quickly knocked down by fire crews, Young explained.

Makayla Carefoot Wilson

Concert Properties has covered displaced residents’ food and accommodations, and said it will do so until the cleaning and repair work in the rental complex is completed.

Concert Properties expects residents to be able to return home in early February.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the Carefoot Wilson family recover. The fundraiser has since raised enough money to meet its goal of $5,000.

Makayla Carefoot Wilson

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