Man, 91, dead in fire in Edson, Alta., seniors' apartment building

Police and firefighters were called to Heritage Court at 5238 5th Ave. around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, Edson RCMP said Wednesday.

Around 30 people who live in government-owned building remain displaced

A 91-year-old man is dead after a fire early Tuesday inside a third-floor unit in the Heritage Court apartment building in Edson, Alta. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

A 91-year-old man is dead after a fire Tuesday inside an Edson, Alta., seniors' apartment building.

Police and firefighters were called to Heritage Court at 5238 5th Ave. around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, Edson RCMP said in a news release Wednesday.

The building was evacuated and the fire was contained to one unit on the third floor, RCMP said.

The 91-year-old man's body was discovered inside the unit, RCMP said.

The man has been tentatively identified. An autopsy will be completed to confirm the identity and cause of death, RCMP said. Next of kin have been notified.

The cause of the fire has been deemed non-suspicious, RCMP said

About 30 tenants have been displaced by the fire and no timeline has been set for when they will return home. 

We couldn't get close. It was really toxic smoke. Really toxic.- Judy Fehr, tenant

Judy Fehr has lived in a third-floor unit in the building for 2½ years.

She knew the resident who died as a longtime neighbour, a quiet and gentle man with hearing and mobility problems.

Fehr said she was sleeping when the fire alarm went off.

"It was very shocking, very abrupt and very loud," she said in an interview outside the building Wednesday. "I left without shoes." 

She stepped outside her unit into a hallway choked with smoke from her neighbour's room.

She wanted to help the man but feared for her safety and that of her neighbours.

"We just had to get everybody out," she said. "I felt powerless and sick.

"The smoke was billowing out his room and I said, 'We can't go in there, we can't go in there.'

"It makes me sick, like maybe we should have gone in there anyway," she said.

"We couldn't get close. It was really toxic smoke. Really toxic."

Judy Fehr, a longtime resident of the apartment building, said toxic smoke forced tenants to evacuate quickly. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

Fehr said she is grateful the other residents were able to get out unharmed, and that the community has stepped up to help.

"Everybody was in their housecoats. Most didn't have their teeth in," she said. "They had to work really hard to find beds for all of us.

"I was so impressed by how they took care of us, how they are watching over us." 

Fehr is now staying in a nearby's senior lodge. She said she struggled to sleep on Tuesday night. 

"It was a long night, a very long night," she said.

"It's been tough on everybody."

Around 30 tenants were evacuated from the Heritage Court building. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

In a statement, the Evergreens Foundation said the man who died lived alone.

"With heavy hearts, we regret to confirm that the sole occupant of that suite passed away," Kristen Chambers, CAO of Evergreens Foundation, said in the statement. 

The tenants who were displaced are now staying with relatives or in available spaces in buildings operated by Evergreens, the statement said. 

"We would like to acknowledge the incredible community of Edson, including businesses that opened up in the wee hours to provide beds for the displaced as well as busing," the statement said.

"We would also like to thank all of the first responders and the Evergreens Foundation site staff for working tirelessly to ensure the tenants were looked after."  

Josephine Pon, Alberta's minister of seniors and housing, issued a statement Tuesday on social media, thanking all those who helped care for the tenants.

"My sincere thanks to the Edson fire department for its quick response, and to the Evergreens Foundation, as well as Edson residents and businesses for pitching in late at night to help displaced residents," Pon said.

"My ministry staff is working with the housing management body and we will continue to provide support, as appropriate." 

Edson is 200 kilometres west of Edmonton.

With files from Min Dhariwal