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‘We couldn’t find flames’: Fire chief describes battling blaze at Barons Hotel

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WATCH ABOVE: About 50 firefighters from seven different departments responded to the fire at Barons Hotel on Thursday. Matt Battochio reports – Jul 20, 2018

An Alberta hotel that’s over 100 years old has been reduced to rubble after succumbing to a fire. Thursday morning at around 9 a.m., the Barons Hotel, which was closed down, went up in flames. Owner Clem Scharbiak says it was built in 1912.

About 50 firefighters from seven different departments responded to the fire, but after attacking flames on the main floor, firefighters had a hard time finding the source.

“Probably almost half an hour we were searching for a fire,” Barons Fire Chief Byron Fraser said. “We couldn’t find flames for the longest time. There was just lots of smoke and lots of heat. We did hit one spot and it showed good knockdown, but it was still building somewhere else.”

While it might sound odd to be fighting a fire you can’t see, Fraser says, it does happen.

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“Sometimes. We’ve had electrical fires where it’s in the walls, where it’s hidden and it’s growing up a wall,” Fraser said. “Different types of structures you can have it go up in the wall and you never even see it.”

When the crews found the source of the fire, it had grown so rapidly they were forced to move outside.

“We just decided: You know what? We’re not going to get enough water in there quick enough, let’s back out,” Fraser said. “Old, old building. Too dangerous to stay in too long.”

Fraser says they were fortunate the wind wasn’t a factor in firefighting efforts and they were able to save the buildings next door.

“Those buildings were only a couple feet apart and we just had good exposure protection,” Fraser said. “The crews did awesome work to keep those buildings form going (up in flames). No wind was a huge, huge help.”

Troy Hampel was living at the hotel and doing renovations. He left to buy a new tap and returned to see the street closed down, and the hotel on fire.

Scharbiak has owned the building for eight years. He hoped to eventually reopen the hotel and says rebuilding is still a possibility.

Scharbiak says he had his first heart attack 40 years ago and starts cancer treatment on Monday. He believes the fire was just another bump in the road.

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Fire crews were back on scene with investigators searching for a cause Friday morning.

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