Risk of fire spreading in 'horrific and tragic' Brandon blaze likely passed, say authorities

Several buildings in Brandon's downtown caught fire on Saturday in what the city's mayor said will "likely be one of the largest fires Brandon has ever seen."

Fire started at office supply store around noon, spread to other buildings; city says no injuries

The Christie's Office Plus building in Brandon has been burning since around noon on Saturday. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Authorities in Brandon say the danger that multiple fires burning in the city's downtown will spread to other buildings has likely passed.

At least four buildings in Brandon's downtown caught fire Saturday in what the city's mayor said will "likely be one of the largest fires Brandon has ever seen."

Around noon, crews began fighting flames billowing out of the Christie's Office Plus building at Seventh and Pacific Avenue in the southwestern Manitoba city.

The fire later spread to two additional buildings in the 500 block of Pacific Avenue: Massey Manor, an apartment building across the street from the Christie's building, and a neighbouring strip mall.

Despite best efforts by firefighters to protect nearby buildings by spraying them down with water, the flames later spread again to a beer vendor and vacant night club at the corner of 5th Street and Rosser Avenue. 

The city says embers from the first fire likely drifted, lighting the three additional fires.

News of the fourth fire came just minutes after a city spokesperson told CBC News crews were only fighting spot fires at the scene shortly before 7 p.m.

Brian Kayes, the city's director of risk and emergency management, told the Canadian Press later in the evening that the danger had largely passed, and firefighters were mostly mopping up.

The city says the Christies building was completely destroyed, while the other buildings recieved "substantial damage." 

As of late Saturday night, fire crews remained at the scene putting out flare-ups at the strip mall, according to the city.

Several dozen Manitoba Hydro customers in the immediate vicinity of the fires remained without power late Saturday with Hydro indicating the power would remain off until their crews could safely access the area.

The cause of the initial fire is not yet known.

'Horrific and tragic'

Avril Moroz and her coworker, Alicia Hamilton, went to Dinsdale Park to watch the fires after smelling the smoke from several blocks away at Rideau Park Personal Care Home, where they had been working.

"It was just black smoke, the flames were just engulfing," said Moroz. who estimated there were more than 200 people in the park watching fire crews battle the blaze.

"You could hear the foundations breaking and the bricks just crushing and crushing and the odd time you'd hear a little explosion.

"That's when people get really freaked out."

The fires sent huge black clouds of smoke into the air Saturday afternoon. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest called the fire "horrific and tragic."

Chrest said Christie's Office Plus is one of the original businesses in Brandon.

The company's website says they opened their doors in the southwestern Manitoba city in 1881.

"Hopefully they'll be able to rebuild and get back into operation in the future," Chrest said.

Chrest said the city has requested "mutual aid, which is assistance from other fire departments in the area."

He said crews from CFB Shilo, Carberry, Wawanesa and Souris have come to their aid, in addition to help from the Office of the Fire Commissioner and Manitoba Hydro.

The city says no one was injured in the fires.

Evacuation centre set up

A city spokesperson said the Red Cross set up a reception centre at a local hotel for the evacuees of all buildings, including the 58-unit Massey building, and a city bus was made available to move those people to the hotel.

In all, more than 100 people were evacuated from the buildings, according to the city.

The City of Brandon said there had been injuries in the fires as of Saturday evening. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

The Salvation Army also provided those impacted with food, beverages and emotional support.

Lt. Kaitlin Adlam from Brandon's Salvation Army says people from Massey Manor, an affordable housing faciltity managed by community groups, are still processing what happened.

"Shocked, I think," she said, when asked how evacuees are feeling. "The folks ... who have been evacuated, they're quite emotional and dealing with the trauma.

"Very natural for this kind of thing, but I think they're holding up pretty good all in all."

The Brandon Bear Clan Patrol is collecting donations for those impacted by the fires at St. Matthews Anglican Church from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The group posted a list of the items needed, including clean clothing, baby formula, diapers and toiletries to their Facebook page late Saturday.

A preliminary investigation has been started into what sparked of the initial fire, city officials say. 

With files from Riley Laychuk, Leif Larsen and the Canadian Press