Neighbours gather donations for people who watched homes 'go up in smoke' in apartment fire

People are trying to sort out their lives after a massive apartment fire in west Winnipeg, and others are stepping up to help.

4-storey Quail Ridge Apartment Homes fire on Friday forced about 180 people from their homes

A man in a baseball cap and grey sweatshirt is seen in the foreground of a photo, from his mid-chest to the top of his hat. He has a short grey beard. In the background is a four-storey apartment block that has burned. The roof is missing and pieces of wood are sticking up into the space where the roof should be.
Randy Cyr stands in front of the apartment building where he lived in west Winnipeg. The structure burned Friday evening, leaving up to 180 people displaced. Cyr lived in the suite at the top left corner behind him. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

People are trying to sort out their lives after a massive apartment fire in west Winnipeg, and others are stepping up to help.

The four-storey Quail Ridge Apartment Homes building is expected to be a complete loss after the Friday evening blaze, which forced out about 180 people.

Randy Cyr and his 29-year-old son were among them. The pair were celebrating Cyr's birthday and having dinner when the fire alarms went off around 7:30 p.m.

"I poked my head out of our patio and saw a fire on one of the patios. We went back in and I said we're going to have to maybe think about getting out of here," he said, adding his son looked into the hallway and saw a little bit of smoke.

By the time they had their shoes on and pets leashed and ready, the hallway was filled with smoke, Cyr said.

"I said, we have to go now."

fire fighters use a bucket and ladder to spray water on a burning building.
Winnipeg fire crews used a ladder truck to fight the fire that broke out Friday evening at the Quail Ridge Apartment Homes in St. James. (Submitted by Barry Bugara)

They escaped down the darkened hallway and got outside. A minute later the building's roof was fully engulfed in flames.

No injuries have been reported in the fire. The cause is still under investigation but the building is expected to be a total loss.

Cyr says all of his belonging and those of his son are gone. But both of his parents had died not long ago, and all of their belongings were also in the building.

"I watched everything, my entire history, go up in smoke," he said, describing it as surreal, standing there in shock and disbelief as it unfolded.

The gravity of it all "still really is not setting in completely," he said.

"The clothes I'm wearing, my wallet and my phone, my dog and my cat and my son — who managed to grab his phone and wallet as well — that's literally all we have left."

Cyr, who did not have tenant insurance, says he made a poor decision and is now "lying in the burned bed I made."

Some friends have started up a GoFundMe page for him but despite his dire straits, Cyr feels fortunate compared to "other people in the world who are escaping shelling [and] fleeing war-torn parts of their country."

He said he has "a good base of friends," is gainfully employed and most importantly, he and his son are alive.

"Material things can be reacquired."

The first night after the fire, Cyr and his dog slept in his brother's car as his brother's residence doesn't allow pets. His son was given a makeshift space in the tool shed of a friend, where he slept with his cat.

The Red Cross has since set the pair up in a pet-friendly hotel, but only until Tuesday. Cyr has no idea where he's going after that.

"We're grasping at straws here," he said.

Donation drive

Diana Hildebrand, who lives in a neighbouring apartment complex on Quail Ridge Road, has organized a donation drive for those displaced by the fire.

"The morning after the fire I was sitting in the apartment with my mom and [said] we have to do something. This is so devastating," she said.

She posted the donation drive on the St. James neighbourhood Facebook page "and it has exploded," Hildebrand said.

A woman in a green shirt stands in the foreground. Behind her are tables full of donated clothing.
Diana Hildebrand stands among the many items donated to help people displaced by the Quail Ridge Apartment Homes fire. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Individuals and businesses have all stepped up. Donations range from clothing and children's items to toiletries and pet supplies. The gifts are filling a common room in Hildebrand's building.

"It is more than I ever thought they would do. We've had donations from people all the way in Portage la Prairie — they've come here and dropped stuff off," she said.

Anyone directly impacted by the fire is welcome to stop in at 180 Quail Ridge Rd. to get supplies they need, Hildebrand said.

Dreamland Diner on Portage Avenue in the St. James area also began taking donations almost immediately after manager Beau Friesen pitched the idea to the owners.

"We ask our staff to look into community initiatives and be a big part of those things," said co-owner Kevin Ramberran. "So when Beau came to us with this idea it was an immediate yes."

Two people stand in on a black-and-white checkered flood of a diner. Beside them are bags of donations.
Kevin Ramberran, co-owner of Dreamland Diner, stands with manager Beau Friesen. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Some kids who were at the restaurant recently asked what was going on, and when Friesen told them, they said they were going to come back and share their toys. 

"Seeing the look on their parents' face was incredible," she said, adding that word is getting around and more people are coming by to offer whatever they can, from clothes and food to something as simple as a bundle of toothbrushes.

Friesen said she hopes Dreamland's efforts, combined with others, will be able to reach every family that was affected by the fire and given them "a little peace of mind."

"We are a community and we band together to make sure that they've got stuff and they're not alone," she said, adding she grew up in the area and used to deliver food orders to that building when she worked at another job.

"I felt I needed to step up and help and I'm in a position, job-wise and personal-wise, that I'm able to."

The Dreamland donation drive will tentatively go on until Father's Day. The restaurant at Portage and Thompson Drive is open 12-9 p.m. daily.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Joanne Roberts