January 15th, 2021

Morning fire severely damages westside apartment building

By Jensen, Randy on October 10, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


Residents of a large westside apartment complex on the 300 block of Highlands Boulevard West will be seeking temporary shelter this weekend after an early morning fire on Friday did substantial damage to their building

According to the Lethbridge fire department, the blaze began just before 8 a.m. on a second-storey outside balcony of one unit in the complex and quickly spread up to the third floor into the attic, eventually fully engulfing the roof of one whole section of the building.

Residents who spoke to the media described a chaotic scene inside as smoke filled the hallways and the building’s fire alarm began to sound. Residents said some inside the building also ran door to door knocking frantically to ensure people got out.

One mother went out into the hall to check on the commotion, according to some witness accounts, and accidently locked herself out of her apartment with her children still inside. The children were eventually rescued after an unidentified man broke an outside window on the ground floor apartment so the children could be carried out.

“We got woken up when the fire alarms went off,” said one resident, Norma Smallbones, whose apartment was on the same side of the building where the blaze started. “We just heard somebody banging on the door and saying to get out, ‘there’s a fire.’ We could see the light of the fire. Everybody was just running around.”

Fire Chief Marc Rathwell credited those unsung heroes for making a big difference in a potentially dangerous situation. Initial reports suggest everyone was able to evacuate, and there were no reported injuries amongst residents, he confirmed.

“Our first concern when we arrive at these buildings isn’t so much getting our crews in,” he explained. “It is getting people out. We want to make sure we’ve got everybody out of the building. Our first priority is life safety, and our crews worked extremely quickly to make sure we evaluated every apartment and every suite to get everybody out of the building. I believe some of the residents themselves were working at self-evacuation, which is a fantastic thing.”

Rathwell stated 31 members of the department responded to the fire, which took over an hour and a half to extinguish using elevated master stream pumps. He confirmed the building was in bad shape.

“These fires spread very quickly once they get into the attic, and the roof has collapsed, Rathwell confirmed. “But we managed to get a good knockdown on the fire and keep it isolated to the one building. (But) that entire roof has collapsed down, and we are seeing water coming out through the main floor as well.”

Rathwell said one firefighter on the scene was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure, but he appeared to be alright. Rathwell also stated an investigation as to the cause of the fire would begin as soon as it was safe to enter the structure.

With so many victims out on the street after the fire, said Bryan Litchfield, who is with the City of Lethbridge’s Emergency Social Services department, the Red Cross was setting up a temporary emergency shelter and seeing to the victims’ basic needs. He and other ECC representatives on scene were gathering names and contact information on Friday to help set people up with these support services. The Lethbridge Fire Department confirmed a total of 36 residential units were impacted by the fire.

“The Red Cross will be contacting them shortly to find out what their needs are,” he said. “The Red Cross looks after making sure they have a place to stay, making sure they have got money to buy groceries or clothing. Whatever their immediate needs are, the Red Cross will help look after them.”

Red Cross volunteers were working with residents and providing one-on-one confidential assessments to see how they could assist those displaced by the fire through their Personal Disaster Assistance program.

People who have been affected by the fire and require assistance can contact Red Cross at 1-888-800-6493.

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