‘What do you do?’ Families lose everything in West End apartment fire

Demolition crews tore down the apartment block at 578 Agnes St. Friday after fire ripped through the building early Boxing Day. Dan Turnbull/Global News

Chelsey Beardy woke up early Boxing Day morning to the sound of a firefighter banging at the door of her West End apartment.

She very quickly realized her home was on fire.

“He was telling us to get out, because he said that the roof was going to collapse,” Beardy told Global News Friday, a day after fire completely destroyed the apartment at 578 Agnes St. she shared with her mother, step-father, and two-year-old daughter.

“I got up, grabbed my daughter, two sets of clothes and four Pampers, and ran out.”

Chelsey Beardy and her daughter Winter, 2, fled the fire with only the clothes on their backs. Global News

Beardy and her family are among 25 people from the three-storey apartment building left displaced by the fire, which started shortly before 2:30 a.m.

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Everyone in the building at the time was able to get out safely, and no injuries were reported.

Fire officials have said the fire likely started in a top floor suite and spread to the roof, but an official cause will be hard to determine because the structure was deemed too unsafe to enter.

READ MORE: 25 people displaced by early morning blaze at Agnes Street apartment

Those quickly deteriorating building conditions meant crews could only attack the fire from the outside, and residents weren’t able to go back in to get their belongings once the fire was out.

“We lost every single thing — all we have left is just the clothes on our backs,” said Beardy, who, like many living in the building, didn’t have rental insurance.

“I hate to go into a shelter with my daughter, but I barely have family members that are around.

“Honestly I have no idea what we’re going to do.”

Flames engulf an apartment building in the 500 block of Agnes Street early Thursday morning.
Flames engulf an apartment building in the 500 block of Agnes Street early Thursday morning. Credit: Michelle Denorer / Facebook

For now Beardy and her family are staying at a downtown Winnipeg hotel, an expense covered by the Canadian Red Cross, which has stepped in to help those left homeless by the blaze.

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The organization is covering three days of hotel stays for those living in the apartment and another 10 from a neighbouring home also affected by the blaze.

The Red Cross is also providing food, clothing, and hygiene products and are helping those affected access programs to help going forward.

“This is obviously a really tough time of year for it to happen to people,” said Red Cross spokesperson Jason Small.

“We try to help them get going and point them in the right direction so they find those other supports if they need them.

“This gives them something to start as they start rebuilding their lives.”

READ MORE: Crews battle large fire at Winnipeg building under construction

Like Beardy, SongGirl Reyes-Starr and Barry Houle are left scrambling trying to find a new home after the fire.

The couple were visiting relatives in Saskatchewan for the holidays when the blaze started.

“We got a call at about 4 o’clock in the morning, from a neighbour, telling us that we no longer had a home — that our home was on fire,” said Reyes-Starr Friday from the downtown Winnipeg hotel she and Houle are staying for the time being.

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“It’s painful — you’re excited to go away, excited to go visit family and then you’re excited to come home, but you don’t have a home to come home to.”

“What do you do? Where do you live in the cold?”

Barry Houle and SongGirl Reyes-Starr lost everything they own in Thursday’s fire. Dan Turnbull/Global News

Houle said the family lost everything — including decades of family photos — and are now desperately searching for their cat, Tux, who hasn’t been seen since the fire.

As demolition crews worked to tear down the building Friday, Reyes-Starr and Houle watched, hopeful to see Tux run out, but left without seeing their black-and-white cat.

While she worries about her own future, Reyes-Starr said the building was home to both elders and young families, and she’s hopeful housing can be found for them first.

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“I’m grateful that we’re here today, because everything that was in there is materialistic — 95 per cent of it can be replaced,” she said.

“I’m just grateful that everyone from our apartment block got out and nobody got hurt.”

–With files from Gabrielle Marchand

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WFPS reminder to stay safe over the holidays – Dec 24, 2019

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