Lethal Johnson Street Fire Witnessed

Just got off the phone with Sarah Petrescu at the Times Colonist, about the house fire I witnessed this morning around 4:30am on Johnson St. in Victoria. She told me that three people were dead.

I was driving east on Johnson St. after leaving work when I saw two vehicles awkwardly pulled over, and then I very quickly saw what had caught their attention. The entire front porch of the house was completely engulfed in flames. Inferno is the only word to describe it, but it’s inadequate. Flames were also shooting from the second floor and the peak of the roof. I could feel intense heat on my face from 10m away.

People were slowly coming out of the neighbouring houses, and I yelled at them to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! One guy rushed to his car in the driveway and drove off seconds before an ajacent van caught fire. The block was eerily silent for several moments. Everyone seemed to be transfixed by the horrifying spectacle. There was nothing any of us could do in the face of such a blaze. A dreadlocked man paced on the sidewalk in front of the house clutching at his head in dismay. Explosions were heard, either from the cars in the driveway or from the house.

A single policeman was the first emergency responder to arrive on the scene. He carried a pitiful fire extinguisher. Within moments we were completely surrounded by emergency vehicles. The firemen worked very efficiently to set up the hoses, but I could sense that they were taken aback by the intensity of the blaze. Even as the first fireman began to hose down the most intense section of the fire, you could see it getting hotter in other places. The van in the driveway’s windows exploded and it was engulfed in flames as well.

For the first little while I was invisible, sitting in my car with my emergency blinkers flashing in the midst of a dozen responder vehicles. Eventually an ambulance paramedic directed my car through the tangle of vehicles that had surrounded me. I parked on the next block and walked back. Some people wrapped in blankets were being led gently away from the fire, which could still be seen burning on the back side of the house, where the hoses hadn’t yet been able to reach. I could see one person collapse on the sidewalk as the group made its way up the block. From the other side of the street I got the sense that she was overcome with grief.

Sarah told me that she visited the scene just now, around 7am, and had seen one of the firemen weeping. It was a truly horrifying, brutal event to behold.