EDMONTON- Staff and patients at Alberta Hospital Edmonton are trying to pick up the pieces after a fire gutted its horticulture therapy greenhouse over the weekend.
About 30 firefighters were called to an early morning blaze at the hospital on Saturday.
Crews responded to a fire by the greenhouse portion of the sprawling health complex at around 6 a.m. and it took over four hours to get the fire under control.
Officials said no injuries were reported and nobody was believed to be at the scene when the fire broke out at the facility in northeast Edmonton. Firefighters continued putting out hot spots into the afternoon and said it wasn’t until after 3 p.m. that the fire was fully extinguished.
Officials said the fire caused extensive damage to the greenhouse but did not say what sparked the blaze.
The greenhouse is an important part of the patients’ daily therapy, as it is home to the hospital’s Horticulture Therapy Program. It helps patients with mental illness by putting them to work with flowers, produce and plants.
“It’s clearly devastating for the patients,” Donna Tchida, with Alberta Hospital Edmonton, said.
About 150,000 plants were inside the greenhouse when the fire hit. The blaze destroyed a small portion of the greenhouse, but smoke damaged the rest of the structure and the plants. The hospital is trying to salvage as many plants as possible.
“We’re going to start asking patients and clients to come in and help clean the plants off because of all that soot,” Tchida said. “They need some TLC.”
“We’ve got things for patients to do,” she said. “We just have to organize it much differently.”
The greenhouse also provides a safe haven for patients. Forty patients are currently enrolled in the Horticulture Therapy Program.
“It actually pulled me out of my darkness,” Ed Brown said in January when the greenhouse was featured in a story on Global News. “I lost 85 pounds and I didn’t know who I was. I thought I was a monster. I had lost me.”
Brown has suffered from bipolar disorder and acute depression. His family asked police to take him to Alberta Hospital when he hit rock bottom. After his psychiatrist helped him with medication, Brown’s occupational therapist suggested he try working in the greenhouse.
“Immediately I found a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose – things that I was lacking in my life,” Brown said.
Brown was discharged from Alberta Hospital two years ago but still works in the greenhouse as a volunteer. It’s estimated about 1,000 patients have completed the Horticulture Therapy Program in 16 years.
Watch below: Alberta Hospital’s Horticulture Therapy Program helps patients with mental illness
An investigation into the cause of the fire is pending.
Hospital staff said the greenhouse will be rebuilt but there’s no timeline on that.
With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News.