Fort McMurray condo fire a near 'catastrophe,' says neighbour

The four-storey condo on Siltstone Place in the Stone Creek neighbourhood was not occupied and no injuries have been reported.

Firefighters and residents alike say a condo fire in Fort McMurray could have been a major disaster if not for the quick actions of emergency workers.

Jody Butz, the assistant deputy chief with regional emergency services in Wood Buffalo, said the fire started somewhere outside the four-storey condominium under construction on Siltstone Place in Stone Creek.

Butz said all contractors and construction workers were able to evacuate the building safely and without injury after the fire started.

The fire is in an unoccupied condominium under construction in the Stone Creek neighbourhood of Fort McMurray. (Courtesy of Ted Doleman)

Firefighters from Wood Buffalo were joined by a volunteer crew as well as additional personnel from Suncor and Syncrude as they worked to put out the fire. In total, he estimated about 65 firefighters responded to the scene.

Butz estimated the building had between 75 and 80 units, and noted the building’s large size made it difficult for firefighters to douse.

The proximity of nearby homes was also a worry, said Butz.

“We are fortunate there was enough gap between the fire and the residential homes that are fully complete and being lived in,” said Butz, adding that crews were lucky only a light wind was blowing while they were trying to contain the blaze.

“That was a huge success for us there,” said Butz. “It could have been a lot worse.”

However, firefighters were not able to save the building.

“Right now, the fire is under control,” said Butz on Friday afternoon. “It is considered a total loss.”

Neighbours commend firefighting efforts

“About noon, coming out of my garage, I saw billowing smoke about a thousand feet down the street,” recalled Nick Gibbs, who has lived in the neighbourhood for five years.

“There was a lot of people running towards the fire to … check if it had been contained or not, to see if their loved ones and friends are still OK.”

Gibbs said he has “nothing but praise” that crews were able to protect neighbouring houses from any damage from the fire, noting that even with the light wind, flames were going sideways at some points.

“It could have spread very easily,” he said.

Another concern for neighbours was a high-pressure gas line that runs about 200 feet from the condo blaze. The diesel feed line for the nearby Suncor plant was also nearby, said Gibbs.

“This could have been a major catastrophe,” said Gibbs.

Asked about the danger posed by the lines, Butz said the lines were “certainly a major concern.” However, he said the gas had since been shut off so was no longer a worry.