Man arrested for arson, 3 in hospital after blaze at Whitehorse apartment building

·4 min read

A man has been arrested on arson charges and three people remain in hospital after a late-night fire at an apartment building in Whitehorse on Friday.

Fire crews responded to a fire alarm at the Ryder Apartment, located at 6095 6th Ave. near Lambert Street, around 10 p.m.

Firefighters arrived to find flames and heavy smoke coming from a rear unit in the building, Whitehorse Fire Department deputy fire chief Chris Green told CBC Saturday.

Four firetrucks and 11 firefighters battled the blaze and extinguished it quickly, he said, with extra pressure to do so because two occupants were still trapped inside the unit.

"Crews were able to knock down the fire rather quickly, gained entry and then located the two occupants and brought them out to safety," Green said, adding that firefighters gave them oxygen before handing off care to EMS.

A third occupant of the unit was able to escape on his own. All three were taken to hospital.

Jackie Hong/cbc
Jackie Hong/cbc

The fire was "largely" contained to the unit it started in and the attic immediately above, Green said.

In a press release, Yukon RCMP said a 20-year-old man had been arrested and charged with three counts of arson endangering life, along with four counts of breaching a court order. He was scheduled to appear in court Saturday.

Green said he couldn't comment on how the fire was started due to the ongoing police investigation, and that he didn't have up-to-date information on the status of the people in hospital.

It's unclear when residents will be able to return to the building.

'We got out of the car and ran towards the fire'

Downtown Whitehorse resident Jani Djokic told CBC that she and her partner, Anders Grasholm, had been driving home on 4th Avenue Friday night when they saw what they first thought was blowing snow before realizing it was smoke.

After seeing flames, Djokic said she and Grasholm turned onto 6th Avenue and realized emergency responders hadn't reached the scene yet — nor were many residents outside.

"For some reason, we got out of the car and ran towards the fire," she said.

Running over to the back side of the building, the couple saw a man who had tried to escape through a second-floor window that was billowing smoke, but his leg had gotten stuck and it left him dangling upside down, Djokic said.

They were able to get him out, and as paramedics assessed him, Djokic said she and Grasholm began asking other residents who had evacuated to step back from the building.

Many weren't wearing winter clothing and some people didn't have shoes on, Djokic recalled. She and Grasholm turned on their car so elders could have a safe, warm place to wait.

You never know what you're going to do in those situations, and I think that was a moment I learned a bit about myself. - Jani Djokic, downtown Whitehorse resident

"We were inhaling quite a bit of smoke," she said. "(Grasholm) kept telling me, 'Jani, leave, go.' And I was like, 'Are you crazy? I'm not leaving you alone.'"

As firefighters and police took control of the scene, Djokic said she and Grasholm helped shuttle displaced residents to the nearby Gold Rush Inn hotel and ensured that people had rooms to stay in for the night.

The couple finally left the scene just after midnight, when the building superintendent had arrived and they felt residents' needs would be taken care of.

Djokic said she's still "quite shaken up" from the experience, but is relieved to hear, for the most part, that the majority of residents are okay.

Steve Silva/CBC
Steve Silva/CBC

"You never know what you're going to do in those situations, and I think that was a moment I learned a bit about myself," she added.

"I want to believe it's what everyone would do in those situations, when you see that folks need help. I'm not too sure if it's, you know, my partner is the kid of a paramedic and we're just instinctually, I don't know, knew it was the right thing to do."

Investigation ongoing, police say

Yukon RCMP said in its press release that the investigation into the fire is "continuing" and that "additional charges may be laid."

A police spokesperson was not immediately available for comment Saturday.

Anyone with information is asked to contact investigators at 867-667-5555, or Crime Stoppers at 867-667-6715.