Edmonton

Strathcona Hotel fire reveals limitations of fire extinguishers, expert says

The Strathcona Hotel fire is a sobering reminder that seemingly-extinguished fires can re-ignite hours later, causing major damage, an Edmonton fire safety expert says.

'If anybody has any slight suspicion ... the fire that they had was put out, call the fire department'

Firefighters on scene at the historic Strathcona Hotel, which dates back to 1891. (Terry Reith/CBC)

The Strathcona Hotel fire is a sobering reminder that seemingly-extinguished fires can re-ignite hours later causing major damage, an Edmonton fire safety expert says.

The fire at the historic Whyte Avenue hotel started at around 10:30 a.m. Friday when sparks from a grinder ignited insulation in the attic. 

A contractor doing renovation work used an extinguisher on the flames and believed it was out, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said. But 11 hours later, 40 firefighters were on scene dousing flames shooting from the roof of the hotel.

Built in 1891, the hotel was undergoing renovations. It remains standing but its roof is visibly damaged.

Re-ignition can happen after fires appear to be extinguished, especially in a wooden building with old fire code standards, said Dean Taylor, owner and president of Western Canada Fire and First Aid Inc.

"The most dangerous structure there is for fire safety is one that's under reconstruction," Taylor said.

The most dangerous structure there is for fire safety is one that's under reconstruction.- Dean Taylor

"If anybody has any slight suspicion that there may be a fire or they're not sure if the fire that they had was put out, call the fire department," Taylor said. "That's their job. They're professionals at this."

Taylor is an internationally-accredited firefighter with 25 years of experience in the industry as an incident commander, fire investigator and safety codes officer. His company offers a variety of safety courses for workers.

Taylor is not involved in the Strathcona Hotel investigation, but says some lessons could be taken from the incident.

Not all fire extinguishers are equal

For a fire to exist, there must be fuel, oxygen and heat, he said. 

Depending on the fuel burning, different fire extinguishers are needed.

"Not all fires are the same," he said.

Taylor said he knows of homeowners in Beaumont who experienced an attic fire. They retrieved an extinguisher from the kitchen, but found it ineffective against the fire.

"They used a different class of fire extinguisher. They used an oil-type fire extinguisher on a wood-type fire."

Homeowners should check the type of fire extinguisher they have, Taylor said. If it is old, it can be taken to a professional recertification facility to ensure it still works.

Fires put out with an extinguisher might continue to smoulder so even if the fire appears to be out, the fire department should be called, he said.

"They are the ones who are experts and they will go digging through the embers and into the wall searching for other hot spots that a regular person wouldn't know to do. 

"The fire's not out until it's cold to the touch."

An undated historic photo of the Strathcona Hotel. (Vivid Print/Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Strathcona Hotel still standing

The hotel's developer, Beljan Development, did not return CBC's requests for comment.

Earlier this week, Beljan Development's Chris Dulaba said the company is committed to moving forward with the renovation, adding it's too early to know whether the fire will delay those efforts.

"It's an old building, it's wood frame construction and a fire can be devastating," he said.

"We were very, very, very fortunate to have it contained in a very short period of time, and kudos to the first responders that made that happen.

"Very lucky, I think, considering what could have been the outcome."

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