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Forty people displaced from St. Albert apartment fire

St. Albert hotel steps up to help those in need

St. Albertans displaced from the Gateway Square apartment fire last month are now receiving help to find new places to live.

Chelsea Sloan and her mother Denise left their ground-floor suite with nothing but their cat and the clothes on their back. With the extent of the damages, they were told they would need to find a new place to live after five years at Gateway Square. 

"We just want our own place, it's definitely been tough. We don't have a home, and it sucks," Chelsea said. For the last few weeks, they have been staying with Chelsea's brother who lives in the apartment complex close by.

Chelsea was able to find a place to stay with a few friends, she said, but her mother is now having trouble finding a new place to live within her budget. The rent they were paying was around $1,000, a perfect amount for them, she said.

"My mom is having an issue to find an apartment to rent right now because she has a budget that she can't go over. And not many places have low rent in St. Albert," she said. "We're all pretty upset with the situation."

St. Albert Inn & Suites housed some of the residents immediately after they were evacuated, while others found lodging with friends and relatives. The Red Cross was also involved in efforts to support residents. 

The morning of the fire, Michael Mazepa, general manager of St. Albert Inn & Suites, got a phone call from the front desk about what had happened. 

He opened up the back doors to the banquet room area and set up chairs for people so they could still practise social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While crews were fighting the fire, hotel staff gave out blankets to those affected so they could keep warm, he said. Many were dressed in housecoats and pajamas with just a pair of slippers on.

"When someone is getting ready to leave a fire, they don't think about getting dressed, grabbing their car keys and wallets. They're leaving the building to be safe," Mazepa said.  

He was told the residents wouldn't be allowed back inside after talking with the fire department and RCMP.

Realizing many didn't have their wallets, forms of identification or anything else needed to make a reservation under normal circumstances, he told everyone in the banquet room if they needed somewhere to stay, they could stay at the hotel free of charge. The hotel ended up housing around 17 families, he said.

"You have to do what you have to do in order to make it work," Mazepa said a week after the fire. "To this very day, we still have a few people staying with us because they're just waiting to get into their new place."

The Red Cross stepped up for people and picked up the cost of accommodations for many of the families, he added. 

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has been difficult for the hotel industry in Alberta as hotels face empty rooms and dwindling revenues. Despite this, Mazepa said he knew how important it was for the hotel to step up.

He remembers when the St. Albert Inn & Suites hotel burned down 40 years ago. The fire caused roughly $3 million in damages and displaced around 50 guests into the cold February air.

"This is home to me, and to see all your work and everything burned down ... it's hard, and you don't know what's happening. It was very difficult for them," he said.

"It's no different than driving down the road. You see somebody whose vehicle is broken down, you stop and you help them. That's what you're supposed to do."

Fire crews from St. Albert and Spruce Grove conducted an early-morning balcony rescue on May 27 after a multi-family apartment complex caught fire on Grange Drive. The fire was actively burning within a suite when fire crews arrived, extending up through the roof.

Four people trapped on their balconies were rescued thanks to the quick actions of RCMP and firefighters. Five people were taken to hospital with unknown injuries. 

Flame, smoke and water damage was extensive in one of the four main areas of the building, with varying degrees of damages in other areas. 

The City of St. Albert stated it believes just over 40 people have been displaced from the fire.