Virden, Man. firefighters 'darn tired' after 2 major fires in 24 hours

Firefighters are hoping for some relief after two major fires in and near Virden over a 24-hour period.

Heritage buildings, 100-year-old school go up in flames in Westman

A section of Virden's 7th Avenue burns on Saturday. (Lauren Halowaty/Twitter)

Firefighters are hoping for some relief after two major fires in and near Virden over a 24-hour period. 

The first fire began at about 5 a.m. on Saturday and eventually gutted three heritage buildings and damaged another, said Virden mayor Jeff McConnell. 

After a gruelling day members of the Wallace District Fire Department, including units from Virden and Elkhorn, went home Saturday evening for some rest. However, they were soon called to the scene of another major fire outside of Virden, said fire chief Brad Yochim.

"We got called [Sunday] at about 3:45 in the morning to an abandoned school, out in the rural part of our district, north of Virden," Yochim said. "It's called Two Creeks School, and it was totally involved in fire, it was completely destroyed."

The former school, known locally as Two Creeks but formally named Ross Consolidated, was a two-story brick building built in 1915.

It hadn't been used by the school division since 1966 and was eventually sold to a private owner, according to the Manitoba Historical Society. That private owner did not have insurance, said Yochim. 

It will likely never be known what caused the school fire, he added.

"We don't have any idea what's caused it. We can't go into the building, it's levelled, it's gone. We can speculate but that doesn't tell us what the cause is. It will go as an undetermined cause."

This former school went up in flames near Virden early Sunday morning. (Manitoba Historical Society)

As for the downtown fires, the cause is still under investigation.

"The fire's out, the buildings are down, there's damage to a fourth building. There's some roof timbers that started on fire, we managed to get it out. The fire wall between that building and the building that started the fire is damaged ... there's some significant damage to the structure."

Yochim said to prevent the Seventh Avenue fire from spreading, firefighters had to take extraordinary measures lest they lose them all. "We had to get drastic. We had to get a backhoe and ended up tearing a building down to stop the fire."

Despite everything, Yochim's firefighters are holding up, he said. "They're pretty darn tired this morning, I'll tell you. We're all hoping we get a day or two off."

McConnell said the town is still reeling from the two fires and it's hard to say what the impact will be on the community of 3,300 and surrounding areas. 

"We're a long way away, yet, to figure out what the rebuilding process is going to be," he said. "The power's not even going to be back on necessarily to the rest of the block for the businesses that are left until later on this week. 

"We know we've got some things to do. We've got to heal our community from what's happened."

Yochim said the town helped the firefighters tremendously to get through Saturday.

"The food, the support, the water, everything they brought to us during the day was incredible," he said. "It just shows you, small-town communities get together when a disaster hits."


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