Fire crews were called out early Sunday morning to battle a three-alarm blaze at a condo development in southwest Edmonton.

Rutherford Fire

District Fire Chief Dave Matwichuk said he expects crews to remain on scene throughout Sunday and possibly into Monday. (CBC)

Neighbours say the fire started around 2 a.m. Sunday in a small building within the Rutherford Landing complex near 119th Street and 21st Avenue and then quickly spread to a neighbouring four-storey building under construction. 

Within an hour, the flames spread to a third building in the complex.

All three buildings were completely levelled by the blaze, said district fire chief Dave Matwichuk.

“It’s probably classified as just about a total loss,” he said.

At the fire’s peak, about 80 firefighters, supported by 15 fire trucks, were battling the flames. Police, paramedics, ETS and ATCO Gas workers were also on hand.

At that point, crews were also working to save neighbouring homes, which were damaged by the intense heat.

The fire was declared under control around 9:15 a.m.

Damage to the condo buildings, which included around 265 suites, are estimated at $17 million. That estimate does not include damage to neighbouring homes.

Surrounding homes evacuated

The intense heat from the fire caused siding to melt on homes across the street from the blaze, and also damaged the lights on cars parked nearby.

The fire knocked out power for hundreds of people living near the blaze for much of the day, said EPCOR spokesperson Tim LeRiche. It has now been restored.

At least 200 residents were evacuated from their homes in the area south of 20th Avenue between 124th and 127th Street as crews battled the flames around 3 a.m.

Those residents were first given shelter in ETS buses before being temporarily relocated to Johnny Bright School.

According to city officials, all but five families have now returned to their homes.

Those that haven’t been able to go home have been taken to a hotel where they are being helped by Red Cross workers.

Cornelius King’s house backs onto the construction site. He said he watched from his bathroom window as the flames engulfed one building after another.

Rutherford Fire

Cornelius King stands in his backyard, which backs on to the site of the condo complex. Behind him, fire crews continue to douse the rubble with water. (CBC)

The middle building, which had only been framed, went up “like matchsticks,” he said.

Around 3 a.m., as the third building caught fire, King and his wife were told to leave their house.

“I said to [my wife], ‘be prepared for when we come by because there might not be a whole lot here,’

“We knew [the house] was going to be affected,” he said. “If you’d seen all the embers and the smoke and stuff that was blowing here because there was quite a wind at that time.”

When he was allowed to return to his house, King said he was surprised to see how well it stood up, given the intensity and proximity of the fire.

“We were lucky. Some of our neighbours were not so lucky.”

Propane tank explodes

Darcy Gillies, who lives several blocks from the condo complex, said he was woken up by sirens around 2 a.m.

When he looked outside his bedroom window, which faces away from the fire, he saw flaming embers raining down from the sky.

“I thought, ‘holy man, there must be something going on,’” he said.

Rutherford fire

Darcy Gillies woke to the sound of sirens around 2 a.m. When he looked out his window, he saw embers falling from the sky. (CBC)

“I get everybody out of bed, we came running over to this pathway here … to have a look and I could see that it was just catching over on the one building and it was just out of control. We just stayed and within an hour the whole place was just ablaze. And then one building at a time just caught on fire and fell to the ground. It was incredible.”

Gillies was still watching when a propane tank on the construction site exploded, shooting a wall of flames 200 metres into the sky.

“The heat from it was just incredible. In fact, the heat was so intense that these buildings here have melted [siding].”

Investigation in its early stages

Speaking Sunday afternoon, Matwichuk estimated fire crews would remain on the scene for some time longer.

“We’re going to be out here most of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were here into the evening and I wouldn’t rule out that we’re not here a little bit tomorrow as well.”

“We’re going to do things right and we’re not going to leave until things are taken care of correctly,” he added.

Matwichuk said the investigation into the cause of the fire is still in its early stages. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.

No one was injured.

The Carlisle Group, who was building the complex, released a statement Sunday thanking first responders for their help in containing the fire.

"As soon as the authorities have completed their investigation and return control of the site to us we will immediately begin the reconstruction of Rutherford Landing," it reads.