Fire at Selkirk crematorium causes $250K in damages

Firefighters battled a blaze at the Voyage Funeral Home crematorium in Selkirk, Man., on Sunday night. It appears one of the machines didn't shut off, the fire chief said.

Volunteer firefighters battled blaze for almost 3 hours at Voyage Funeral Home crematorium

Fire at crematorium in Selkirk causes $250,000 in damages. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Volunteer firefighters spent more than three hours battling a stubborn blaze at the Voyage Funeral Home crematorium in Selkirk, Man., on Sunday night.

Crews were called shortly after 10 p.m. by an employee at the Selkirk General Hospital, which is not far from the crematorium. 

Fire Chief Craig Fiebelkorn said when the 22 firefighters arrived, flames were shooting through the roof. 

"So our guys gained entry through the front of the building. The fire was very stubborn — a lot of extension into the walls and ceiling," said Fiebelkorn. "We couldn't put anyone on the roof, because the roof was breached by the blaze."

It appeared someone had been cremated, because firefighters found remains inside one of the cremators, Fiebelkorn said.

"When my guys went inside to check for damage, they opened up the two ovens. They found bones in one of them."

It seems the fail safe systems for the oven didn't work, Fiebelkorn said. It was supposed to shut off at a certain temperature and apparently failed to do so. It heated up the chimney that goes through the ceiling so much that it started the insulation on fire in the ceiling and it spread from there, he said.

He estimates damage at $250,000.

'Business as usual'

Michael Vogiatzakis, the funeral director for Voyage, said no remains were disturbed by the fire. He said the remains were in a sealed unit and were untouched.

"The cremated remains were were unaffected by the fire," he said.

Vogiatzakis, who ran unsuccessfully to be Winnipeg's mayor in 2014 after not having enough signatures, said he has insurance and the crematorium should be back in operation in a few months. Until then, they are using another crematorium.

Crematorium licenced

The Voyage crematorium is licenced to operate by the Funeral Board of Manitoba for 2016. But Vogiatzakis was fined by the Funeral Board of Manitoba in 2015. 

The board said from April 1 to Aug. 11, 2014, Vogiatzakis operated the crematorium without a 2014 Crematory Licence as required by the Cemeteries Act. 

The inspector stated approximately 100 cremations were performed while it was unlicensed.

The board fined Vogiatzakis $2,500 and $585.64 in costs.

Vogiatzakis disputes the number of cremations that took place during that time and said it was a miscommunication and that the licence lapsed because oversight of the industry transferred from the Public Utilities Board to the Funeral Board around the same time.