Manitoba

Thompson fire leaves nearly 200 homeless after city deems apartment unsafe

More than 180 people are scrambling to find a place to live after a suspicious fire left an already dilapidated Thompson, Man., apartment building too dangerous to reopen.

Ongoing problems in building contributed to severity of fire, potential for injury and loss of life: officials

Officials says the fire was contained to the fifth floor, but several levels of the building were filled with heavy smoke. (Thompson Professional Firefighters Association/Facebook)

More than 180 people are scrambling to find a place to live after a suspicious fire left an already dilapidated Thompson, Man., apartment building too dangerous to reopen.

Fire code violations have been an issue for months in the north tower of the Forest View Suites, resulting in an $8,000 fine in August, the City of Thompson said in a news release.

The building's alarm system didn't immediately alert the Thompson Fire and Emergency Services to the Monday morning fire, the news release says.

"I can't stress enough how extremely lucky we are not to have lost a life in this fire," director of fire and public safety Mike Bourgon said in the release.

"Deficiencies in the building both before and after the fire that contributed to both the severity of the fire itself, and the potential for injury or loss of life," the news release said.

Allowing residents to return to the building before the issues are fixed would put lives in danger, Bourgon said.

The building, also known as Princeton Towers, will not be reopened until "critical repairs" are done and fire code violations are addressed, officials said.

The violations include broken elevators, an inoperable fire alarm system, missing fire extinguishers, blocked exits, poorly maintained fire separations, broken emergency lighting and more.

CBC News reached out to Armour Property Management, the company responsible for the north tower, but they declined to comment.

"Everybody get out!"

Leni Queskekapow, from Norway House Cree Nation, is among the 181 evacuees.

"I went out on my balcony and kids were screaming and crying and a guy was yelling, 'Everybody get out! It's a real fire,' and that's when I seen that smoke," she said over the phone from Thompson.

She has lived on the second floor of the north tower for nearly a year and said people pull the fire alarm nearly every day, so when she awoke to the sound on Monday, it wasn't a surprise.

Leni Queskekapow and her grandson, Chase, along with her two daughters and son-in-law are looking for a place to live after their apartment building was deemed uninhabitable. (Leni Dawn Queskekapow/Facebook)

Queskekapow said she called for her son-in-law, got everyone up and grabbed a snowsuit for her grandson.

"We had no time to grab anything and it was so smoky in there," she said.

Queskekapow is staying with her boyfriend for now, while her daughters and grandson are staying at a hotel.

"It's really unfortunate. It's horrible. It's a really sad thing that happened. Look how many homeless people there [are]," she said.

"It's the kids and the babies that are suffering the most."

The fire was contained to the fifth floor, but several levels of the building were filled with heavy smoke, leaving extensive damage throughout, the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner said.

The RCMP said arson is suspected, but no arrests have been made at this time.

Emergency assistance for evacuees

The City of Thompson has been providing emergency assistance to the evacuees since Monday morning.

About 25 people have been using an emergency shelter set up at the Thompson Regional Community Centre, while the rest of the evacuees have made other arrangements.

However, the emergency shelter is closing Thursday morning as the city's assistance comes to an end.

Manitoba Employment and Income Assistance and Manitoba Housing are working with people to find alternative housing or funding if they apply, said Kacper Antoszewski, a communications officer with the city. Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak is offering rides to those whose family supports are outside the city.

Damage from the fire was mostly confined to the inside of the north tower. The fire and subsequent closure of the building means 181 people lost their homes. (Ramraajh Sharvendiran/CBC)

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