2 lawsuits accuse owners of condo unit in Penticton, B.C., of starting fatal apartment complex fire

Two civil lawsuits filed in B.C. Supreme Court accuse the owners of a first-floor apartment unit in Penticton, B.C., for being responsible for starting a massive fire in October 2020 that destroyed much of the building and left dozens of people homeless. 

The fire at the apartment complex on Elm Avenue caused extensive damage in the three-floor building and took the lives of two people living there.

The RCMP ruled out criminality in their investigation.

At the time of the early morning fire, Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson said the building was “heavily involved” by the time firefighters arrived on scene. 

“The fire was on the exterior of the building and was lapping up to the third floor and into the apartments through the balconies,” Watkinson said.

“It got into the roof structure and tore across the roof.”

This month, three people who were living in the building at the time of the fire have filed civil lawsuits against other residents in the apartment complex.

Wade Haft and Nora Hunt-Haft, the owners of a second-floor condo unit, and Dominique Gauthier, a tenant in a third-floor unit, each name William Walter Ten Veen and Cheryl Lynn Samuels in their lawsuits as the owners of an apartment on the first floor where the fire allegedly originated.

“The Fire was caused by improperly, negligent and/or carelessly discarded smoking materials within the defendants’ Property,” each of the the lawsuits read.

“As a result of the fire and the damage to the plaintiff’s unit, the plaintiff suffered loss, damage and expense.”

Fire crews work to put out the fire in the 36-unit apartment complex in October 2022. At the time, Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson said the building was ‘heavily involved’ by the time firefighters arrived on scene. (Mike Biden/Penticton Fire Department)

The lawsuits claim the plaintiffs suffered the loss of the contents of their homes and expenses including costs for accommodations and increased living expenses.

The Hafts and Gautier were among dozens of people living in the 36-unit apartment complex, but so far are the only residents that have filed lawsuits related to the fire. 

When reached on the phone, their lawyer Blair Driedger of Bilkey Law Corporation declined an interview. 

CBC News reached out to Ten Veen and Samuels but they have not responded.

The claims in the lawsuits have not been proven in court and neither of them have filed a legal response.