Improperly discarded smoking materials are to blame for a fire that caused nearly $4 million in damage in south Edmonton earlier this week.
Crews were called to Strathmore Manor at 29 Avenue and 109 Street in the Ermineskin neighbourhood just before 3:30 a.m. Monday, arriving to find flames shooting from the roof of the four-storey building.
It was the second fire the apartment building has suffered in less than a decade. The fire sent one firefighter to hospital and left 170 people homeless.
On Thursday, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said the total damage cost was $3.7 million — $2.5 million to the structure and $1.2 million to contents.
Resident Lance Simmons has lived at the apartment building for six years and was woken up by the fire alarm. He said it’s gone off by accident a few times before, but this time was different.
“I could hear the crackling and sparks everywhere,” he said, adding he looked outside the bedroom window and saw flames licking up from below.
“We knew right away we had to get out of there because it was coming fast.
“By the time we got downstairs it had already gone up and onto our balcony — from two floors down. So it moved quite fast.”
Simmons said firefighters arrived within minutes because Fire Station 20 is just down the street near 23 Avenue. But by the time he got to the parking lot, the flames were on the roof.
“The flames were literally on the roof, like, within minutes. And then it started to spread even more.
Edmonton Fire Rescue district chief Todd Weiss said fires double every minute, “so it’s not surprising that he was shocked at how fast the fire travelled and got big while he was watching it.”
Firefighters arrived around 3:23 a.m. to a working fire that was quickly upgraded to a second alarm, and about 50 firefighters were on scene.
“The primary worry was fire extending to the other parts of the structure but it was stopped by a fire barrier,” Weiss said, explaining the barrier prevents the flames from spreading along inside the roof.
“It saves other parts of the building,” he said, but added there was still smoke and water damage.
The fire was brought under control at 3:44 a.m. Damage to the 132-unit building is estimated to be $2.5 million.
The Emergency Support Response Team is aiding in the displacement of the residents who lived in the units, including 11 seniors and 38 children.
Lynn Flanagan-Burrell has a plan for when the fire alarm goes off: she sends her husband to the lobby to see if it’s an actual fire, while she gathers up important documents like passports, the cat and his food, and a computer to keep in touch with the building manager.
“But I didn’t get to do that this time,” she said.
She said she began banging on doors to wake her neighbours.
Flanagan-Burrell has good reason to be organized: she lived through the last fire.
On Oct. 1, 2011, a blaze was triggered by a careless smoker on a balcony, causing more than $5 million in damage to Strathmore Manor and leaving more than 200 people homeless.
That blaze took more than two and a half hours for crews to get under control.
Flanagan-Burrell said she and her husband were lucky that time and only lost the food in their fridge and freezer, but she lamented on the inconvenience of being out of her home for weeks. “It’s just a pain in the butt.”
This time around, she said things will be tough.
“I haven’t worked since August and my husband hasn’t worked since February. So this is going to be rough. It was already going to be rough Christmas, now… we’re not sure.”
Weiss said one firefighter was taken to hospital with a minor back injury. Everyone else was able to get out of the building safely, fire crews said.
“We have two ETS buses to put the residents in, and we have activated the emergency support response team,” Edmonton Fire Rescue public information officer Brittany Lewchuk said, explaining temporary shelter would be provided until residents made other arrangements. Two additional buses were later brought in.
She said 201 displaced residents registered with the response team on site.
Simmons was one of those residents and expects to have a long day ahead of him.
“It’s not fun, you know what I mean? A lot of personal stuff in there that’s gonna be gone.”
EFRS said it is finished its investigation and the building has been released back to the property owner.