UPDATE — July 10, 2020: While firefighters at the scene of the fire Thursday said one person was believed to have died in the fire, the Vancouver Police Department said Friday that the deceased person appears to have died before the fire started.
Police, in a statement, said the deceased person was a 65-year-old woman. They said her death is not considered suspicious.
Police said the death is being investigated by the B.C. Coroners Service and the fire by Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service.
Firefighters are praising residents of a Downtown Eastside building for their work in helping to extinguish an apartment fire Thursday evening.
But, Kevin Jennex, the man who led the effort says he felt helpless when he couldn't do more to save his neighbour.
Jennex made those comments Thursday when it was believed the fire killed one person. Police on Friday said it appeared the 65-year-old woman had actually died before the fire started.
Vancouver Fire Rescue Services responded to the blaze at 133 West Pender St. at around 7:05 p.m., according to Asst. Chief Trevor Connelly.
Firefighters climbed the stairs to the eighth floor, where they discovered thick smoke and one apartment fully engulfed in flames.
"Luckily, we had some pretty smart and brave residents of the building who grabbed one of the building's fire hoses and was able to get a bit of water on the fire, which greatly helped us out," Connelly said.
"That was amazing that those people did that — very brave."
With that quick thinking, firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the flames.
'The heart's just pounding'
Jennex told CBC he was just lying down for a nap when he heard the fire alarm go off. Assuming it was yet another false alarm, he stepped outside onto his balcony rather than heading downstairs.
Jennex saw thick smoke billowing from one of the apartments down the hall and realized this was for real.
"When these alarms go off, they go off so often, no one pays attention to it," he said. "So you go knock on all the doors on your floor, kick 'em, let 'em know it's the real thing."
Jennex said he found a fire hose and struggled for a while to figure out how to get it working, and then he and another resident walked straight toward the burning apartment.
"We don't know what to do, right? The heart's just pounding," he said.
Jennex felt the door — it was hot to the touch.
"I open it up, everything's black," he said. "I tried to go low, spraying the hose, but it's just billowing out. You can't breathe after a few minutes."
There were no flames in the room, just thick, choking smoke.
"I'm yelling, trying to see if anyone's in there, but you can't go in. You want to, but you can't go in," Jennex said.
"The more you spray the hose, the more smoke comes out. You keep backing up, but you feel so helpless. You want to do something — you're like a chicken with your head off."
Finally, the smoke was too much for Jennex and he had to escape the building.
Neighbour describes Downtown Eastside apartment fire:
'You gotta do something'
He said he couldn't explain why he responded to the fire the way he did.
"You're on the spot, right? You gotta do something, and you don't always know what the right thing is to do," Jennex said.
The Pendera Building where the fire took place is operated by the Vancouver Native Housing Society and provides affordable housing.
Investigators from the fire department were on scene Thursday night alongside members of the Vancouver Police Department, trying to determine what caused the fire.