Investigation into fire that destroyed Charlottetown apartment building 'going to take a little time'

All the residents of a Charlottetown apartment building got out safely when a fire destroyed their homes early Wednesday morning.

'We know it’s a loss. It’s a total loss'

The building is just a few years old. (Samantha Juric/CBC)

All the residents of a Charlottetown apartment building got out safely when a fire destroyed their homes early Wednesday morning.

The resident manager of the two-year-old, 29-unit building at 10 Harley Street said the tenants woke up this morning to the sound of a large bang. A check of the residents list confirmed everyone got out safely.

All 52 of the residents are seniors. One uses a wheelchair and many use walkers, but police and firefighters were able to get them out, some of them in their night clothes, before the fire spread.

'Going to take a little time'

Charlottetown fire Inspector Winston Bryan says he's now working to determine the cause of the fire, which he said he believes started on the back left corner of the building.

Firefighters reposition a hose. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

He is interviewing residents and gathering evidence inside and outside the building Wednesday, as well as reviewing security video from nearby buildings. He said he expected to be on the scene for a couple of days.

"This is going to take a little time," he said. "This is quite large. There is some areas that we will be looking at and concentrating on. But again our interviewing process and obtaining some video is a big part of this investigation."

Charlottetown fire Chief Randy MacDonald confirmed the building is a total loss.

He also said there is no sprinkler system beyond the basement parking garage.

"I believe the outcome would have been different if we had a sprinkler system throughout the building," MacDonald said.

The requirement for a sprinkler system in a residential building is based on the number of storeys, the type of construction and the building area.

Generally, a three-storey residential building is not required to have sprinklers unless it exceeds the building-area limits, officials with the city said in an email to CBC.

The fire spread all across the roof of the building. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Dan Sampson, director of property management for building owner Killam Apartment REIT, came from Halifax to survey the damage.

"The fire has impacted the entire top floor of the building," said Sampson. "The roof appears to have been engulfed in flames and of course the water used to put out the fire would have impacted most of the units in the building."

Sampson said the company plans to rebuild on the site.

A large section of the building was destroyed, and firefighters were still battling Wednesday morning to save another section. (Steve Bruce/CBC)
Charlottetown Fire Inspector Winston Bryan takes photographs to use as evidence in his investigation of the fire's cause. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Residents Dorothy Taylor and Mary Plamondon said they became aware there was a fire at about 4:30 a.m. They said they both got out as quickly as they could, not taking the time to even grab their cellphones.

Firefighters pour water on the apartment building. (Samantha Juric/CBC)

They have both been living in the building since it opened two-and-a-half years ago.

Resident Denise Despres said she got out just as fire trucks started arriving, and three floors at the end of the building were already engulfed.

"Everything is gone," said Despres. "We know it's a loss. It's a total loss."

Everyone has a temporary home

The residents met with the Red Cross in a nearby building to arrange temporary accommodation. The city and Killam also have staff assisting.

Even though fire comes at a time when apartment vacancy rates are at a record low in the city and during the height of tourism season, Killam and the Red Cross have worked with landlords in the area who volunteered their vacant summer rentals as temporary housing for everyone.

"All of the tenants have found places to stay on a temporary basis," said Sampson.

All of the building's residents were required to carry tenants' insurance, he said, which will help with temporary housing. 

Residents look on as the fire burns. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Fire crews left the scene around 6 p.m. Wednesday, but the fire inspector is still investigating the cause of the fire.

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With files from Samantha Juric, Steve Bruce and Pat Martel