Fire guts downtown drop-in centre

Fire has completely destroyed the House of Refuge Mission building in downtown Edmonton.
Little remained of the House of Refuge Mission, once easily-recognizable by its huge colourful mural, after a fire tore through the building Oct. 19. (Doug Steele/CBC News)

Fire has destroyed the House of Refuge Mission building in downtown Edmonton.

The flames started just before 3 a.m. Saturday. And even though the fire was declared under control within an hour or so, House of Refuge Mission vice-president Bob Vandergrift said too much damage was already done.

“It’s going to be of no use to anybody. It will need to be demolished,” he said.

The mission, located at 95th Street and 103A Avenue, had been a drop-in centre that served up to 200 meals every evening to Edmontonians in need.

Vandergrift said he went through the remains of the building Saturday afternoon with a fire investigator.

While it is still early in the investigation, he said it appears the fire was triggered by some kind of electrical issue.

Linda Dumont sits on the board for the House of Refuge Mission. From the pattern of smoke, she said it appears the fire may have started near the mission’s kitchen.

An early morning fire completely destroyed the House of Refuge Mission in Edmonton Saturday morning, say fire officials. (Trisha Estabrooks/CBC)

What she does know for certain, she said, is that the loss of the building will hurt some of Edmonton’s most vulnerable.

“We were the place you could come to eat if you were drunk or under the influence of something,” said Dumont. “Some of the other places turn away people under the influence.”

“We’re the last stop for people some of them can't go anywhere else,” agreed Vandergrift.

Now, Dumont said, it is unclear whether the mission – which is entirely funded by private donations and staffed by volunteers – will be able to continue without its home.

“The people will just have to manage without their evening meal sometimes,” she said.

Vandergrift, however, has remained optimistic. He said the board will hold a meeting to discuss the future of the meeting.

“We’re just going to pick up and rebuild,” he said.

No one was injured in the fire.

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