Two businesses were destroyed in an early morning fire in Whitecourt, Alta., on Boxing Day.
Fire crews were called to the downtown core at around 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 26. Fire chief Brian Wynn said a person walking in the area noticed the fire at a local pet store and called 911.
“Unfortunately on this one we didn’t get early detection,” Wynn said. “So when I left my house, I could see the orange glow and that’s probably eight blocks away.”
By the time crews arrived, Wynn said the fire had already started to spread to one neighbouring business — a sewing and alterations shop.
“The fire was already venting through the roof. So it was fully involved, 100 per cent flames inside.”
Unable to save the two businesses, Wynn said crews took a defensive attack to save the other nearby businesses, which included a dry cleaner that suffered smoke and water damage.
Wynn said fire crews entered a second-storey apartment located above the dry cleaner, but luckily no one was home. About 20 firefighters battled the blaze, which was still smoldering on Friday morning.
“It’s just hard on people because you’re spraying water and everything is freezing. My guys are covered in water,” Wynn said.
“They were here for at least 12 hours so the big thing is don’t thaw out. If you’re frozen on the outside, stay frozen because if you do thaw out then you get wet on the inside and you’re done.”
The building, which housed both the pet store and the sewing shop, was gutted by the blaze. It’s not known how many or what type of animals were in the pet store, but Wynn said “whatever was inside is gone.”
The town’s mayor said the community is devastated by the loss.
“What I see behind me, I find very sad. My heart goes out to the business owners,” Maryann Chichak said.
“I can’t imagine what it would feel like to lose a business at any time of year, especially Christmas. I feel for the employees that worked in those businesses as well. It is going to have a great affect, not only in the short term for our community, but also in the long term.”
Chichak said she hasn’t had a chance to speak to the businesses owners yet, but plans on reaching out early next week.
“They’ve been staples in our community, they’ve been here for many, many years. The buildings themselves have been there for decades. They formed the heart and history of our community, so it is a huge loss,” she said.
“Any time that you have a local business that closes its doors, it has a huge ripple and a domino effect on the rest of our community. So everybody is feeling the pain.”
No people were injured in the blaze. The cause of the fire remains under investigation but Wynn said it is not considered suspicious.
Whitecourt is located about 175 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.