'Like a bad dream': Tenants lose everything after fire destroys West End apartment

Families displaced during a West End apartment fire say they lost everything and don't know where they'll live after the blaze rendered the building a total loss on Boxing Day.

More than 2 dozen people displaced by fire at 578 Agnes on Boxing Day

Crews pull down the Vesta apartment building at 578 Agnes St. the day after it was destroyed by fire. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)

Families displaced during a West End apartment fire say they lost everything and don't know where they'll live after the blaze destroyed the building, robbing them of irreplaceable family photos and other cherished keepsakes.

A neighbour called SongGirl Houle and her husband to tell them their Winnipeg apartment building was on fire early Boxing Day morning.

She and her husband were in Regina at the time of the fire at the Vesta complex at 578 Agnes St., where they've lived for a year.

"I cried, I screamed," Houle said. "We built that home together. We don't have nothing now." 

SongGirl and Barry Houle say friends have been very helpful since the fire and now they're on the hunt for a new apartment to rent. (Rudi Gauer/CBC)

Ihor Holowczynsky, assistant chief of fire rescue operations for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, said crews were called to the three-storey building at the corner of Sargent Avenue and Agnes Street, which had 25 tenants, at about 2:20 a.m. Thursday.

By the time firefighters arrived, the fire already had spread from the unit where it started to the roof, causing so much damage the building was torn down on Friday.

Winnipeg police cadets were directing traffic and pedestrians away from the building.

'It's like a bad dream'

The Houles lost furniture, electronics, clothes, Christmas presents and personal items.

A poster hangs from wreckage in the apartment building on Agnes Street after crews began demolition. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)

"We lost everything," said SongGirl. "All we have is the change of clothes that's in our backpacks."

Her husband Barry Houle said losing family photos is one of the worst things about the fire.

"It's like a bad dream," he said. "My children's pictures when they were babies, ultrasound pictures — I'll never get them back."

SongGirl Houle's cat Tux is missing after a fire at an apartment building on Agnes Street. (SongGirl Houle/Facebook)

The couple also is missing their five-month-old cat, Tux.

"He's a really big part of our family. He's our fur baby," SongGirl said. 

'Bricks were burning'

Chelsey Beardy, 24, is still processing the loss.

"I … couldn't believe bricks were burning," she said. "I watched the whole building burn."

Watch Beardy describe her family's hurried escape:

Dozens of people from Winnipeg's West End are uncertain where they'll ring in the New Year after a fire destroyed an apartment building on Boxing Day, leaving them homeless. 2:20

She lived in a basement suite with her mother and two-year-old daughter. The smell of smoke that was wafting outside her daughter's bedroom window spooked them awake.

"I just got up and grabbed my daughter, grabbed two sets of clothes, four sets of Pampers and I ran out," she said.

"I was really heartbroken," Beardy said. "My daughter's stuff was in there."

Beardy's family is staying at the Holiday Inn and the Houles are at the Marlborough Hotel, both downtown, thanks to help from the Red Cross.

3 days

Candace Lamb, a spokesperson for the Red Cross, said it's providing food, clothing and other necessary items as needed for three days to 35 people.

"The assistance coming from the Red Cross supports you while you're getting a hold of your insurance, or your social worker, or your bank or whatever regular supports you have," said Lamb. 

"It's just meant as that emergency food, clothing, shelter and essential items in that first 72 hours." 

Chelsey Beardy and her two-year-old daughter Winter are staying at the Holiday Inn after a fire destroyed their West End apartment on Boxing Day. (Rudi Gauer/CBC)

A GoFundMe campaign was started to raise money for Beardy's family, and clothing donations have been pouring in at her hotel, she said.

Neither family had renters' insurance, and none of them know where they'll go when Red Cross coverage of their hotel costs expires this weekend.

Houle is most concerned about her neighbours, especially a mother with three young children and an elderly couple. She hopes they can find places to rent first.

Crews demolish the building on Friday. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)

The fire left the building so unstable crews had to tear it down Friday morning. Residents weren't allowed to go back to get their possessions beforehand due to safety concerns.

By the afternoon, the apartment was reduced to rubble.

A city spokesperson said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

With files from Dana Hatherly


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