Fire investigators are trying to determine the cause of a blaze that destroyed three homes in Lewis Estates and damaged two others.

Three houses were completely gutted by the fire, with the siding melted off of a fourth. The garage at a fifth residence was also damaged by the flames.

Fire officials are now saying the fire caused at least $1 million in damages.

Neighbours say the fire started in a single house around 213th Street and 88th Avenue around 12:30 local time, and then spread rapidly to two other homes within about a half hour.

Jen Couture says she just happened to look out her window around 12:30 p.m. and was shocked to see flames pouring out of the house across the street.

"I saw the house across the street. Just its roof was on fire. And so I went downstairs screaming to my family to look outside," she said. 

"At that point, there were people starting to come out of their houses. The smoke was getting pretty bad. And I think within about ten minutes the three houses were on fire."

"I actually thought it was going to devour the whole neighbourhood."

Neighbourhood evacuation

Officials evacuated the entire cul-de-sac while fire crews worked to contain the blaze, as there was some concern that the fast-moving fire would spread.

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Some of those evacuated from their homes tried to return to rescue their pets. (Courtesy of Brent Taylor)

Firefighters had to work fast to contain the blaze, said District Fire Chief Lorne Corbett,  adding that it could have been much worse if the wind had picked up.

"They got out their hand lines [and] put up a water curtain [on either side of the fire] — and they saved those houses," he said.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered this afternoon to watch the fire, kept well back by emergency crews.

Neighbours say some residents attempted to return to their homes to rescue pets left inside after the evacuation order had been given.

Most residents have now been allowed to return to their homes.

Fire investigators are still looking into the cause of the blaze, and what caused it to move so quickly between houses.

They say two key factors they will be assessing are the proximity of the houses to each other, and whether or not the houses’ siding was fire resistant.