Firefighters were still dealing with smouldering hot spots Thursday afternoon after a massive fire turned a three-storey apartment development into charred rubble early Thursday morning in southwest Winnipeg.

The blaze began at 2:30 a.m. in the building, which was still under construction at the corner of Waverley Street and John Angus Drive. Damage is estimated at $3.5 million.

Crews remained at the scene fighting flare-ups for most of the day.

"The flames were high — the whole thing was engulfed in flames and they basically just watched it burn until it collapsed, then they were pouring water over onto it," said Angie Baran, whose family lives kitty-corner to the development.

She walked over to see the fire, just as fire crews arrived on the scene.

"You could feel the heat from across the street. It was pretty incredible to witness."

The crackling of the fire was so loud that it woke up one woman who thought it was hail hammering on her home, Baran said, recounting what she was told by a woman she met while they stood watching the fire.

Some homes in the area were evacuated because the heat was so intense but everyone was allowed to return by early afternoon.

The apartment, known as South Pointe Terrace, was being built by B.C.-based Seymour Pacific Developments. According to the company's website, it was slated to be four storeys and contain 276 units when completed.

The structure, which was due to be finished next summer, was one of three being built on the site, Seymour Pacific said in a news release. The company plans to resume construction of the other two buildings as soon as fire investigators allow it, the news release said.

A number of streets in the area are affected as crews monitor the site. At 3:30 p.m. the following closures were still in effect:

  • ​John Angus Drive is closed.
  • Waverley's southbound lanes are closed between Lee Boulevard and Sandusky Drive. Northbound lanes have reopened.
  • Sandusky Drive has reopened.

'You're chicken-winged if you can't get there in time:' firefighters

The union that represents Winnipeg firefighters says last night's fire brings into sharp focus a new but growing concern: Winnipeg's rapid growth.

United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg treasurer Tom Bilous tells CBC, fires at construction sites have changed dramatically in recent years as materials have changed to laminates and engineered products — great deals for consumers but new dangers for firefighters. 

He said the materials burn faster, are much hotter and produce toxins. 

But he added the Waverley fire also raises questions about how well served the city's new booming suburbs are. 

Bilous said the biggest factor in any fire is getting to it quickly. 

"We've been lobbying for some time to get more fire coverage in the south end of the city. This really magnifies that. The guys did a great job but you're kind of chicken-winged when you're you can't get there in time." 

The fire captain at the scene was not available to comment.

Bilous also said firefighters have been lobbying for years for changes to the building code to reduce the risks at construction sites.

Response time took longer than national standard

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said late Thursday afternoon that the call came in at 2:21:02 a.m. and the first unit on the scene from station 23 at 880 Dalhousie Drive arrived at 2:28:42.

In an email, Chief John Lane admits that's seven minutes and 39 seconds — 34 seconds longer than National Fire Protection Association standards, a standard that is expected to be met in 90 per cent of calls.

But he also points out that the response time "may fall within the 10 per cent that we are allowed beyond the time standard."

Lane said the "full first alarm complement" was on the scene by 2:33:11 — 12 minutes and nine seconds later, again, outside the standard expected for most calls by one minute and four seconds.