Local residents in shock at scale of destruction



Dave Pate/for metro edmonton


Onlookers stare at the blaze that caused more than $20 million in damages in Edmonton’s south end on Saturday. Hundreds were left homeless after 18 townhouses were demolished by the fire, with another 76 suffering some damage. While the cause is still being investigated, Edmonton fire officials are pointing to outdated building codes.


“All we could see were flames and black smoke. … We thought the fire would just keep jumping from house to house.”

Hundreds lined the streets and shook their heads, staring at a vast wasteland of charred grass and smouldering lumber, the few remnants of a community destroyed in one of the largest residential fires in Edmonton history.

With her soot-stained hands, Gae Mackwood lifted an African drum and a soot-covered picture frame from a pile of blackened rubble — her only possessions that survived a massive south-side blaze.

“The sound of that thing, it was just roaring with this huge, huge wall of orange fire,” she said yesterday. “It was like it was alive and it was coming right for my house.”

The early morning blaze left hundreds homeless after it tore through 18 townhouses and damaged 76 others just after 5 a.m. Saturday.

The fire started in a four-storey condo complex that was under construction on MacEwan Road before strong winds sent the flames sailing. In two short hours, an entire city block was destroyed, with damage estimated at around $20 to $25 million.

Standing behind a chain-link fence that now surrounds the smoking ruins, local residents were in shock that such a large fire could engulf their community.

“All we could see were flames and black smoke,” said Jarod DeAlexandra, who lives a few doors down from the fire zone. “We thought the fire would just keep jumping from house to house. We’re so lucky.”

Fire officials are now blaming out-dated building codes for contributing to the speed at which the fire spread, but a direct cause of the blaze is still being investigated.

Building codes haven’t been updated since the 1960s while today’s homes are built closer together and with building products that codes do not address, fire department spokeswoman Nikki Booth said.

“This fire has definitely traumatized this community and affected so many families,” she said. “By changing the building codes we’re going to be able to minimize this sort of devastation in the future.”

Vinyl siding, a popular product for homeowners, melts at 220 C degrees before exposing tarpaper that quickly ignites and spreads fire. Manufacturers recommend placing exterior drywall as a fire barrier between vinyl siding and the paper, but building codes don’t currently require it, she said.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ray Danyluk surveyed the damage Saturday and told reporters that the government will review provincial building codes.