Tenants of apartment complex damaged in huge Brandon fire get brief chance to go home for belongings

Residents of an apartment block damaged in a massive blaze that destroyed three other buildings in downtown Brandon last weekend were briefly allowed into their suites on Friday to gather important documents and other belongings.

Fire damaged Massey Manor, destroyed 3 other buildings in downtown Brandon last Saturday

A coat of ash covers the floor of a fourth-floor apartment at Massey Manor, an apartment complex affected by a massive downtown fire in Brandon on May 19. The Canadian Mental Health Association in Brandon, which provided this photo, has since changed its name to Community Health and Housing of Westman. (Stephanie Lockerby/Canadian Mental Health Association)

Residents of an apartment block damaged in a massive blaze that destroyed three other buildings in downtown Brandon last weekend were briefly allowed to go home Friday.

The 58-unit Massey Manor was damaged by fire last Saturday after heat and hot embers spread from an office supply store across the street. A strip mall next door to the store, as well as a beer vendor attached to a vacant nightclub more than a block away, were also destroyed.

As a result, more than 150 residents of the affordable housing complex were left homeless. They were bused to the site in groups on Friday to go and gather some belongings.

"It looked like a disaster area, like a war went on in there," said Justin Verinder, who lived on the building's main floor with his two kids.

"It was dark, smelly, wet, dirty and really hot and humid."

City officials said on the weekend that 93 adults and 57 children who lived at Massey Manor had registered at an evacuation centre. (Stephanie Lockerby/Canadian Mental Health Association)

"I just scrambled through there.… I tried to grab anything that wasn't wet."

Officials with the Canadian Mental Health Association, one of the partners that helped manage the affordable housing complex, said while the fire itself didn't do much damage to Massey Manor beyond the roof, water damage was extensive throughout the building.

Officials said some curtains were burned on the top floor and there was soot on the floors, but suites throughout the building appear to be water-damaged.

Residents given 15 minutes inside 

On Friday, residents were each given a plastic bin and had 15 minutes to gather things like identification and legal documents, if they had not sustained water damage.

Tenants were also given a face mask and flashlight prior to going into the building. City inspectors were present, as were property managers for all floors, a spokesperson for Manitoba Housing told CBC News.

Tenants were given 15 minutes on Friday to go into their suites and retrieve important documents. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"You could tell everybody was tense. The closer we got, the more anxious I got," Verinder said following his time in the building.

"I was shaking when I went into my place."

Veridner said he saved a crate of books with music he had written over the years, as well as a few of his children's toys, a laptop, photos and other items. But he wishes he could have taken more.

"It was kind of sad leaving an $800 TV sitting there when I know it still works," he said.

"My unit is in better shape than a lot of other units," Verinder added. "My bedroom was completely dry and almost completely undamaged."

However, he said a futon and new beds he had bought for his kids were soaked.

"I was in a pretty depressed mood when I left there."

6 days since fire 

Nearly a week after the fire, Verinder said he's been amazed and touched by the support shown by Brandon residents. The Brandon Bear Clan citizen patrol group has been collecting and distributing donations for those displaced from their homes since last Sunday.

"I think my kids are more resilient than I am at this point," Verinder said. "My son has not cried once and my daughter has mentioned a few times that she's pretty upset, but she's barely cried either.

Justin Verinder says the fire feels like it happened yesterday. He and his two kids have been staying in a hotel since last Saturday. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"I've broken down a few times.… It felt like it just happened yesterday and I can't believe it's already been a week."

As for a new place to live, Verinder said a property manager has found a new place for him and his two kids. However, he doesn't yet have any new furniture.

Justin Verinder gathered photos, music books and some of his kids' toys from their suite. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"I really appreciate the generosity. If they weren't there the first day, the second day, the third day, I'm pretty sure all of the tenants would be complete lost," he said.

"To see everybody rally around it like that … I've never seen anything like it."