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'We had all the water that we could find, every truck that we have, to stop it at that spot'

Acting St. Albert Fire Chief Scott Wilde describes battling back flames in high wind at Citadel Mews West seniors home Thursday night
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A St. Albert Transit bus pulls slowly through the parking lot outside the Citadel Mews West, which was heavily damaged in a fire Thursday night. St. Albert Transit buses were used to bring displaced seniors to hotels and shelter for the night.

Hours-long efforts by firefighters around the St. Albert region helped save as much of the Citadel seniors complex as possible Thursday night and Friday morning after a massive fire engulfed the west wing.

St. Albert fire and ambulance crews responded to a fire at Citadel Mews West just north of the Sturgeon Community Hospital at about 8 p.m. May 6. 

Acting Fire Chief Scott Wilde told reporters Friday the fire caused extensive damage to the 110-unit seniors home. While the investigation into the fire is ongoing, he estimated around half of the units will have significant fire damage, while others will have significant water damage.

Crews battled the fire throughout the night with wind speeds at around 32-kilometres per hour. According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), approximately 129 long term care residents and 38 designated supportive living residents were evacuated, along with residents in the independent living area.

Most long-term care and supportive living residents were taken to the St. Albert Inn, and some went home with family members.

Three patients were transported to hospital by AHS Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and St. Albert Fire Services. Two patients suffered smoke inhalation and were transported in serious but stable conditions. A third patient was taken to Sturgeon Community Hospital with minor lacerations, and has since been discharged. 

The cause of the fire and extent of the damages is currently under investigation. It is not yet known when the 129 long term care residents will be able to return to the Citadel site, according to AHS. The long-term care area suffered smoke damage, but no fire damage.

Wilde credited getting the fire under control to the co-ordinated response of fire departments in the region that came to St. Albert’s aid, including Morinville, Spruce Grove, Strathcona County and Edmonton. This regional collaboration was facilitated under the Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Partnership mutual aid agreement.

“We were able to co-ordinate a very efficient attack on what needed to be done,” he said.

When the additional trucks arrived, Wilde said everyone had already knew where the water was needed.

Firewalls are incorporated into multi-unit buildings to ensure a fire does not spread to the entire building. Instead, the fire will come up against the wall that's been constructed to stop the flames in its tracks, Wilde explained. Keeping that wall secure became the primary focus of crews once they arrived on scene.

“We had all the water that we could find, every truck that we have, to stop it at that spot,” Wilde said. “We knew that the rest of the building would suffer additional losses, but at the same time, we believe that we could have prevented the rest of the building (from catching fire).”

The west wing is part of the Citadel Care Centre, a long-term care facility in a three-building complex. The centre building is attached to Citadel Mews West by a pedway, but did not catch fire. Citadel Mews East, the detached independent-living building in the complex, was not evacuated.

Information released earlier by the City of St. Albert that the east building had been evacuated is incorrect.

”Yeah, I don't believe so. I don't have any knowledge,” Wilde said in response to a question about the conflicting information. “That was somewhat of a self-evacuation.”

Once the firewall was held, crews were able to start backing up to where the fire was actually burning to keep it under control. The fire was extinguished early Friday morning, with crews staying on scene to take care of any remaining hot spots.

When asked about the challenges, Wilde said evacuating residents was difficult because many needed assistance getting out of the building or were dealing with medical conditions, he said. Once they were out of the building, residents were then relocated to the St. Albert Inn by bus, with most put up in hotel rooms and others placed in available beds at long-term care facilities in the region.

There were also a lot of bystanders in the area fire crews had to ensure stayed at a safe distance away from the fire.

On Friday, St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron and director of emergency management Percy Janke answered questions from the media alongside Wilde.

Heron expressed her condolences to the residents and staff displaced by the fire, and her appreciation for the first responders, mutual aid partners, community members and organizations for their support.

“I put out on social media a couple times today how grateful I am to live in such a wonderful city, with the residents just expressing a need to help and of course, the regional response from our neighbouring fire departments, transit, and Alberta Health,” Heron said. 

Brittany Gervais

About the Author: Brittany Gervais

Brittany Gervais joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2020. She writes about city hall, business, general news and features.
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