A row of townhouses in an east-central Alberta town burned to the ground on Friday, according to Jay Duffee, who works for the Town of Elk Point public works department.
Elk Point’s deputy fire chief told Global News the volunteer firefighters who responded were returning from a grass fire in Frog Lake when they were called to the Elk Point fire.
Peter Hewitt said the call came in at 4:46 p.m. and St. Paul’s fire department also had nine firefighters respond in addition to the nine volunteer firefighters from Elk Point.
Trevor Kotowich, St. Paul’s fire chief, said he could not provide details about the fire other than to say it was “quite big.”
Hewitt said no people were injured but one cat died in the fire. He said there were eight units in the townhome complex and four were already lost before firefighters arrived. Two are still standing but will need to be gutted and he did not comment on the remaining two. A semi-truck and several vehicles were also burned in the fire.
Hewitt added that the wind hampered firefighters’ efforts and that the fire started in the townhouse complex before spreading to the grass. He said the cause of the fire still has to be determined.
Crews were still putting out hot spots late into the night.
An Elk Point fire official told Global News he believes there are two different fire scenes but did not elaborate.
Sharida Germain is a resident of Elk Point who witnessed the fire. She told Global News she tried to make sure everyone in homes near the blaze got out safely.
“We were knocking on doors but a lot of them were locked so people must not have been home,” she said. “We went to the back and tried to break into a couple doors and windows to get in.
“I was just really hoping there was nobody left in there. No pets or anything.”
Germain said she first saw smoke from the fire at about 4:40 p.m.
“It was unbelievable,” she said. “When we pulled up, I’ve never seen anything like it. Just how big the flames were and stuff already.
“It just kept spreading.”
Mike Van der Hoek also lives in Elk Point and witnessed the blaze.
“You could see the whole unit fully engulfed, with a semi-tractor behind it burning to the ground too,” he said. “It was kind of a shock that way.
“The community I suspect is going to rally around these folks because that’s a pretty devastating loss.”
Van der Hoek told Global News there was a strong wind and the smoke was visible from as far away as Bonnyville, which is located about 50 kilometres north of Elk Point.
“It seemed to move very, very quick. I’ve been to a lot of house fires in my previous career when I was a videographer. This was probably actually one of the quickest moving (fires) I’ve seen, taking out the whole unit. The firefighters trying to catch up to it, they did their best but I don’t think they had a chance to save much.”
Van der Hoek described Elk Point as “a really small, tight knit community.”
“I heard the church nearby had already opened its doors. These people won’t be left in the cold. Elk Point knows how to take care of its own.”
According to the County of St. Paul No. 19’s website, there are four volunteer fire departments in the county.
“The St. Paul Fire Department has 36 members, rescue van equipment with Jaws of Life, APSS Rescue Kit, two pumpers and one water truck,” the website says. “The Ashmont (fire department) has 15 members, one pumper truck, one equipment van, one rapid response truck and one fire/rescue UTV. The Mallaig Fire Department has 25 members, one pumper truck, one rescue van and one water truck. The Elk Point Fire Department has 23 members, two pumper trucks, one rescue van and one boat for water rescue.”
Elk Point is located about 215 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
View photos of the Elk Point fire(s) in the gallery below:
-With files from Sarah Kraus