'I have to save lives': Edmonton restaurant owner cleared building on fire

Riza Kasikcioglu was working at Maximo’s Pizza, a restaurant he bought just four months ago, when his wife Yeter told him to look out the window.

Riza Kasikcioglu ran up and down the 17-storey downtown apartment building knocking on every door he could

Restaurant owner cleared residents out of on-fire apartment building in Edmonton

7 years ago
Duration 0:25
Riza Kasikcioglu said he knew he had "to save lives" when he saw an apartment on fire on Jasper Avenue and 118th Street.

When Riza Kasikcioglu ran into Oliver Place to alert residents of a fire, a verse from the Holy Quran was in the back of his mind.

"And whoever saves one — it is as if he had saved mankind entirely," the passage says.

The 47-year-old was working Thursday night at Maximo's Pizza, a downtown restaurant he bought just four months ago, when his wife Yeter told him to look out the window.

Riza Kasikcioglu owns Maximo's Pizza, a restaurant across the street from Oliver Place, the apartment building that was on fire Thursday night. (John Robertson/CBC)

He and his wife saw a fire at the Oliver Place building at 118th Street and Jasper Avenue around 7 p.m.

The fire broke out on the seventh floor of the apartment building. It only took 10 minutes for the 90 firefighters to contain the fire. One person died and another was injured. The fire is still under investigation.

But when Kasikcioglu first saw the fire, fire crews hadn't arrived yet. He called 911 and ran across the street, hoping to save as many lives as he could. "It's in my mind already. I have to save lives there," he told CBC News.

He tried to clear out a nearby bar, alerting them of the fire. The patrons wouldn't listen at first, but they did after he pulled the fire alarm.

The Kasikcioglu turned his attention to the apartment building that was on fire.

"I tried to enter the building to save some people," he said.

He had a bit of trouble finding the entrance at first, but eventually found a way in and began knocking on apartment doors.

'You're going to die'

"I started to yell all over the building," he recalled. "Nobody was aware of the fire."

He said his memory is a bit hazy, citing adrenaline and smoke inhalation as factors. Climbing each staircase, he knocked on every door he could. Kasikcioglu went to the third floor, the fourth floor.

People started pouring out of their rooms, and smoke started pouring out of the vents.

By the time he was on the sixth or seventh floor, he saw a woman in a wheelchair having difficulty escaping the smoke. He carried her down the stairs on his back.

As he was leaving, other people were, too — with lots on their mind. "Some people were worrying about their money, gold, this, that," Kasikcioglu said. "I said, 'Don't worry about gold, nothing.' "

Then he remembers adding: " ' You're going to die.' "

Fire crews battling the flames on the seventh floor of Oliver Place. (Michael Bedard/Radio-Canada)

As he made his way back up the apartment building, people were still fleeing the smoke.

Kasikcioglu was growing tired and soaked.

"I was feeling terrible," he said, noting the sprinklers were spurting out water, and smoke was coming out of the vents.

He ushered more people out, making sure pets were also out of each room. 

As the smoke grew heavier, he knew he had to leave the building, seeing fire crews battling the fire outside.

He met up with a firefighter and asked for oxygen. After getting the oxygen, he wanted to go back in again. But the firefighters said they had it under control, and they wouldn't need him to go back.

By then all the residents were out of the building.

Despite his heroic efforts, he still feels a bit of guilt. "I couldn't save one life," he said, alluding to the death of one person in the building. "I'm very sad about that."

'You are crazy'

Kasikcioglu said response to his efforts has been a overwhelming, with many people stopping in to Maximo's Pizza to say thank you.

One woman brought him a flower.

Kasikcioglu received this flower from a woman as a thank-you for his efforts. (John Robertson/CBC)

"Many people said, 'You are crazy,'" he said. "I don't know if I'm crazy or not.

"If I save lives, if they say I'm crazy, OK, I'm crazy."

He said he has experience in these types of situations from being in the military in Turkey, where he originally came from. But he said he wonders why others were standing around just watching the fire.

"I am upset about the young people," he said. "They are in the crowd like a robot."

Still, he said he would do it all again if he had to. "I'm Turkish and Muslim," he said. "We do this in my country."

With files from John Robertson