Manitoba

Animals dead after pet store consumed in Steinbach strip mall fire

Several Steinbach businesses are now a smoldering pile of rubble and a number of animals are dead after a fire consumed a strip mall in the southeast Manitoba city.

'The pets we had, we cared for them a lot. A lot of them had names, so it's just been hard': manager

Emergency crews were called at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday to the strip mall, which housed a pet store, flooring store, paint store and tax office. (Submitted by JC Normandeau)

Several Steinbach businesses are now a smoldering pile of rubble and a number of animals are dead after a fire consumed a strip mall in the southeast Manitoba city.

Emergency crews were called at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday to the Main Street mall, home to businesses including a pet store, flooring store, paint store and a tax office.

"There were animals — we were able to get a few of them out but the majority of them perished," said fire Chief Kelvin Toews.

Steven Larson, manager of Best West Pet Foods, said three reptiles were saved before the fire escalated.

"They were able to save a few of them, not nearly enough, but at the same time they did everything they could," he said about the firefighters.

There were also 26 tanks full of fish, along with cages containing birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice and rats that are all lost.

"It was heartbreaking, for sure. The pets we had, we cared for them a lot," Larson said. "A lot of them had names, so it's just been hard."

Larson said an employee called him around 3:15 p.m. saying she could smell something burning and was wondering what to do. He was on his way there when he got another call saying there was smoke coming into the store.

Firefighters were already on scene when Larson got there and he was not allowed inside the store.

"It was a lot more farther along at that point than I was expecting. But you can never expect a fire like we ended up with," he said.

As for the rescued reptiles "they've all got vet checks later today that we gotta take them to, but they look like they're all going to make it," he said.

"You never know with smoke inhalation, animals have tiny lungs. They seem to be getting better today, compared to what they looked like yesterday."

An excavator has been brought in to lift some of the pancaked layers from the collapse to get at the smouldering embers hidden in the rubble. (Submitted by Nathan Bestvater)

The reptiles will be fostered by Larson and an employee, but he has also received "hundreds of offers" from people offering space as well.

"It's been really overwhelming, for sure."

Larson is looking for a temporary spot to reopen the store before a permanent location can he found.

"We love helping out the community with all their pets, so we just want to get back."

According to Toews, there was smoke inside one of the businesses when crews arrived, and they initially went in to fight the fire but it spread quickly and he had to order his crews out of the building.

"The conditions changed considerably, and we had to pull them out and go defensive," he said, adding the fire began to grow as well, breaking through the roof.

"We eventually knocked down the fire but not before the roof collapsed. The building will be a total loss."

Air-quality warning issued

A temporary air-quality warning had to be issued for the city due to the nature of some of the materials in the fire.

"It's a flooring store and and a paint store in there. When it burns, there's lots of toxic smoke," Toews said, noting there was still some "wispy" smoke on Monday morning but the majority had dissipated.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but an investigator is on scene, Toews said.

An excavator has been brought in to lift some of the pancaked layers from the collapse to get at the smouldering embers hidden in the rubble.

"So it'll be a long process yet," Toews said. 

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson and Shannah-Lee Vidal

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