'Like a bad dream': Tenants lose everything after fire destroys West End apartment
More than 2 dozen people displaced by fire at 578 Agnes on Boxing Day
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."
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.
"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."
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:
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.
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."
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.
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