Fire that destroyed community building in Leslieville, Alta. deemed suspicious

Smoke continues to rise off the remains of a beloved community building that was destroyed by fire in Leslieville, Alta. on Friday night.

Elks Hall went up in flames on Friday night

Elks Hall in Leslieville was destroyed in a fire Friday night. (Scott Finkbeiner/Facebook)

Smoke continues to rise off the remains of a beloved community building that was destroyed in a fire in Leslieville, Alta. on Friday night.

The Elks Hall in the hamlet west of Red Deer went up in flames around 7 p.m. Friday. Officials have deemed the fire suspicious.

"We've opted not to add any more water to it just so we can preserve the evidence," said Regional Fire Chief Steve Debienne.

"If we add the water to it right now, all we're going to do is make a block of ice, and it would just hamper the investigation."

The freezing temperatures also hampered the work of fire crews from Leslieville, Condor, Caroline and Rocky Mountain House.

"Minus forty three was a bit of a challenge," Debienne said.

Leslieville doesn't have a hydrant system, so all of the water used to douse the fire had to be brought into the area, he said. Surrounding roads were slick with ice formed from water that spilled from the trucks, and crucial equipment like fire hoses froze up.

The ears, fingers and toes of firefighters were also at risk of freezing, but Debienne said the community of 250 people helped keep them warm.

"The community of Lesleville has been fantastic, very supportive, ensuring our firefighters were warm, got something warm to drink, and something to eat," he said.

Despite the challenges, crews got the fire under control around 9:30 p.m, Debienne said. The building collapsed and is unsalvageable.

A 'devastating loss'

"This is a devastating loss to the Leslieville area," Debienne said. "The Elks do a lot for the community, and seeing something like this go to the ground is definitely going to hurt the community and the Elks Club."

The club, about 50 members strong, hosts events to raise money for Leslieville and the surrounding communities.

The leader of the Leslieville chapter said he's been attending meetings in the building since he joined the club 15 years ago.

"We've lost money obviously, but it's memories basically from the last 60 years," said Royce Koester.

"It's a very old building, but it's not the building that really mattered. It's the memorabilia that was inside. There was lots of history and photos and elk mounts and all kinds of stuff."

But Koester said the community will move on from the loss of the building.

"I'm feeling disheartened that it's gone, that's for sure, but our community is strong and we'll rebuild and carry on," he said. 

Freezing temperatures were an added challenge as fire crews tried to contain the blaze. (Scott Finbeiner/Facebook)