Three days after a $10 million fire devastated their homes, many condo residents were allowed to return to their suites to see if they could recover anything.

It was an emotional day for many of the people forced out of their homes. Some of the 400 residents were crying and hugging each other after seeing the extent of the damage to their suites.

The fire at the South Hamptons condo complex started early Monday morning after a cigarette was improperly butted out in a planter. No one was injured but one-third of the units were heavily damaged or destroyed. Some residents will be out of their suites for more than a year.

Steven and Monika St. Jean and their baby fled the building with only the clothes on their back. Returning to the scene was difficult for the family.

“Seeing the building, it’s our home,” said Steven. “It’s hard to see it without a roof.”

Residents were given 20 minutes to go back into their homes and see if they could salvage anything.

Red Cross was at the scene Thursday to assist residents in need.

“We’ve put approximately 150 people in hotel accommodation and assisted with hygiene kits and any information they might need to get through the next few days and weeks,” said Cali Forbes with the Red Cross.

Fire chief speaks out

Fire chief Ken Block

Edmonton Fire Chief Ken Block says materials used in planters are extremely flammable. (CBC)

A frustrated fire chief said people in Edmonton aren't getting the message about smoking safety.

“What’s it going to take?” Ken Block asked during a news conference Thursday morning. “Is it going to take a funeral? A multiple fatality at one of these events?”

Block says the peat and organic material used in planters is flammable. A cigarette may appear to be extinguished but the planter could smoulder for several hours until it erupts in open flames.

Block also had harsh words for Alberta building codes that allow combustible materials to be used on the exteriors of buildings.

He said it can allow flames from the planters to ignite the exterior, sometimes travelling up the wall and into the building's attic.

“The building burns down from the outside in and it doesn’t take long,” Block said.

When asked if people should face charges for causing a fire in such a manner, Block said that was a matter for elected officials to consider.

However, he believes that it comes down to a lack of education.

“I can’t imagine anybody does this on purpose. It’s a lack of awareness, it’s a lack of taking personal responsibility.”