A major fire consumed a home Friday in the posh Winnipeg neighbourhood of Linden Woods, causing an estimated $3 million in damage.

The blaze appears to have started inside an attached garage at a home on Shoreline Drive at about 7:30 a.m. but spread so quickly and was burning so intensely that firefighters were forced into a defensive mode — protecting neighbouring homes while letting the flames devour the burning one.

"It's a very big building and it was totally engulfed on our arrival. There was absolutely no way we were going to be able to go into the building," said platoon chief Ted Keryluk told CBC News.

Later on Friday, investigators said the fire appeared to be accidental and was caused by a heater located in the garage.

All residents of the home had escaped safely before emergency crews arrived.

Neighbour Frank Lionetti opened his doors to the family members, who managed to grab cell phones and credit cards as they escaped in their pajamas.

'My heart goes out to the family. They're the nicest people, big into charity donations.'—Trevor Machutchon, neighbour

"This time of the year, nobody deserves this. I mean it's a fire, it can happen to anybody," he said.

Another neighbour Dom Pansini was sleeping when his wife woke him up after hearing an explosion.

"So she looked outside and she started freaking out because she saw the house on fire. She was scared because she didn't know if like, the people, they were inside or not," he said.

Trevor Machutchon, who lives a few houses down the block, said he was "mindblown" when he walked outside and saw the extent of the fire.

"Flames were coming out of the house. I've never seen a fire that big, like you couldn't see anything, there was black smoke everywhere. It was insane," he said.

"My heart goes out to the family. They're the nicest people, big into charity donations. This is the worst time of the year, right around Christmas."

The home, assessed by the City of Winnipeg at slightly more than $1 million, belongs to Edward Kennedy and his wife, Stella.

Kennedy is the president and CEO of The North West Company, which owns  variety of retail stores — Giant Tiger and North Mart among them —across northern and western Canada, rural Alaska, the South Pacific and the Caribbean.

He is also the chair of the United Way of Winnipeg's 2011 fundraising campaign.

Mark Proulx of the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service said fires that start in attached garages that don't have a firewall can engulf a house in seconds.

"That particular area [of the city] that you are talking about, they are particularly big homes. A lot of them have been built 2,000 or 3,000 square feet. They are literally almost like a church because it's all open cathedral ceilings," he said.

"So once it gets in there, it really takes off on us."

 The building code for attached garages changed in 2008, making a firewall mandatory between the common wall of the garage and house.


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