'Lucky that I woke up when I did': Witness describes waking up to Southdale apartment fire

An apartment building in Winnipeg's Southdale neighbourhood went up in flames early Sunday morning.

Pair pulled fire alarms, knocked on doors to wake people up during early morning blaze

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      An apartment building in Winnipeg's Southdale neighbourhood went up in flames early Sunday morning. 

      The fire started in the apartment block on Beaverhill Boulevard, next to the Royal Canadian Mint, just before 6 a.m.

      At one point there were 19 fire crews and four ambulance crews in attendance, the city said. 

      No injuries were reported. The fire was extinguished just after 7:30 a.m., city spokesperson Felicia Wiltshire said in an email. 

      The building sustained significant damage, and it's unclear when residents will be able to return, Wiltshire said.

      Rav Sangha, who was visiting her fiancee's parents, was sleeping in the living room in a suite on the second floor when she happened to wake up and noticed embers outside on the patio.

      "I just saw some embers kind of floating, and I thought I was dreaming a bit but I got up and took a look and to the left of me there was a fire," said Sangha.

      'I rang that fire alarm'

      The 24-year-old paramedic was in Winnipeg visiting from Dauphin. She and her fiancee, also a paramedic, jumped into action and pulled the fire alarm. Then they began knocking on doors of neighbouring suites to wake people.

      When the family got outside, Sangha realized the fire was spreading quickly and ran inside the building next door.

      "I rang that fire alarm, then we went up to the third floor and just started banging on doors to tell everyone to hurry up and get out cause there was fire," she said.

      "This was a legitimate fire, I didn't want anyone to sleep through or think that it was OK to walk out slowly."

      Sangha said other than the fire alarms that were pulled, she doesn't recall hearing any smoke detectors going off.

      "With how it spread between when I woke up and when we got out the door, it was very lucky that I woke up when I did," said Sangha.

      When fire crews arrived at the scene the apartment was already fully involved.

      "[Fire crews] entered the building and launched a quick search, when they got to the third floor, they encountered a lot of heat, a lot of fire, and a lot of smoke and were pushing hard to try to get the search completed on the third floor," said assistant chief Mark Reshaur with the Winnipeg Fire-Paramedic Service.

      Fire crews had to flee

      "The roof conditions deteriorated so quickly that the roof started to collapse into the third floor and we had to evacuate our crews on an emergency basis."

      'It is very fortunate that nobody was hurt in this fire, this fire spread very quickly because of the type of construction and because it was in the attic ... it allowed the fire to travel very quickly," said Reshaur.

      Reshaur said the cause and where the fire started are still under investigation but not considered suspicious.

      He said the building has extensive damage.

      "A lot of water has gone through this building, the interior damage to this building is going to be very significant from top to bottom," he said.

      24 families not going home tonight

      "24 suites have been evacuated and will not be in any condition to returned to for quite some time."

      However, residents in neighbouring apartment buildings, which were evacuated as a precaution, were able to return Sunday. 

      Nathan Gordon lives one building over from the fire and didn't think anything of it when he heard fire trucks going by, but then realized the fire was right next door.

      "All of a sudden I've got a fireman knocking at my door saying 'you gotta get out', the building next to us has caught fire," she said. "First I couldn't believe it, because this has never happened to me before. When I got out and saw the building was all smouldering and stuff I was like I can't believe this."

      Lousie Riege and her husband were having coffee at a nearby McDonalds when they saw smoke billowing from the blaze.

      "My husband got in the vehicle and drove over here and he said it was just all in flames, he just couldn't believe it," she said.