It was a race against time and Mother Nature, as residents in a newer area on the north side of Edmonton rushed to try and save their neighbours.
Christine and Andrew Turner live in the Klarvatten neighbourhood and saw the smoke outside their windows on Friday afternoon.
“I yelled fire and he looked and said, ‘OK, I’m going to run and tell people.’ So I called 911 and he ran out and started knocking on houses,” Christine said.
“Very quickly it went to the house, to the other garage, to that house — in a matter of minutes, everything was in flames.”
Firefighters responded at 1:37 p.m. to the neighbourhood, where thick, black smoke could be seen billowing into the sky from several kilometres away.
It’s believed the fire began in a detached garage behind one of the three homes on 85 Street near 179 Avenue that were leveled in the blaze.
Residents ran door-to-door before fire crews arrived, banging on doors and telling their neighbours to flee.
“Get out of your house!” many yelled as the inferno quickly spread to several single-family detached homes.
Fires crews were on scene within five minutes and arrived to find three garages on fire, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said.
“We were informed upon arrival that neighbours had evacuated the surrounding homes, and so by that point, there was nothing for us to do a search and rescue on, basically — the houses were was already fully involved and a total loss,” Edmonton Fire Rescue District chief Todd Roberts said.
Neighbouring homes that still had people in them were evacuated by firefighters, an EFRS spokesperson said. Roberts said investigators had no reason to believe anyone didn’t make it out of the homes.
The call was upgraded to a second alarm fire and additional firefighters responded to help because the wind was fanning the flames.
“We didn’t get a call for an initial small fire. Neighbours spotted the fire (and) it was already well underway,” Roberts said.
“Without the wind it would have been a different outcome for sure.”
Approximately 35 to 40 firefighters attended the scene.
“When you have significant winds like this, pushing the fire right into the homes with vinyl siding etc. you know, by time we get here — and we’re not far away — it was already well underway.”
Neighbour Russell Klein heard several popping noises while playing games. He looked outside to see the dense, black smoke and said he saw the fire spread from the garage to the homes down the street.
“I looked two doors down and the whole garage was on fire, and the wind was taking it towards the house. And then the two houses went on fire and it just went from there,” he said.
Klein said the situation escalated quickly: “It all happened within 10 minutes or less.”
The Turners said the wind was so strong, they feared the homes across the street would catch on fire as well.
“I can’t describe it honestly, it was just blowing it like crazy. The houses went up and they burnt so quickly just because the wind,” Christine said.
Two people with burns were assessed on scene by EMS and taken to the University of Alberta Hospital, which has a dedicated burn unit. Roberts said their injuries didn’t sound terribly serious.
Three homes were destroyed and one of the detached garages was extensively damaged. At least four other homes and some garages had heat damage to the siding.
“We’re fairly certain that it started at the second house, in the centre house of the three that were consumed,” Roberts said.
It was scary — it’s amazing how fast it happened,” Andrew Turner said, adding he’s glad his wife spotted the smoke when she did.
“That we ran out in the neighbourhood, reacted as a group, and people were getting getting themselves up and out of their homes and their vehicles clear and staying clear of the fire department.
“I think, you know, the people in neighbourhood did a good job just letting these guys do what they do best.”
The fire was brought under control at 2:36 p.m. Crews remained on scene afterwards to extinguish hot spots.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. A damage estimate has not yet been completed.