Members of the St. Paul Fire Department and Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority responded to what St. Paul Fire Chief Trevor Kotowich called a “very dangerous” fire on Monday night.
Although the owner of building was present when the fire started, there were no injuries and the fire is not considered suspicious.
“He did make a couple attempts to go in and either actually fight the fire or maybe try and gather some valuables or belongings,” said Kotowich.
“I’m not exactly sure I haven’t had a chance to sit down with him. But certainly, our firefighters had to make sure that he was safe when they originally arrived and make sure nobody was going in except for firefighters.”
The call for the fire, located in a commercial building at the corner of 50 Ave and 52 St in St. Paul came in at approximately 7:15 p.m.
“This building was old. It was a service station as a shop, a garage for many, many years. So lots of hazardous materials and compressed cylinders that were on this property that made it very dangerous for my guys.
“I’m just thankful everybody ended up safe. And very tired. But safe nonetheless,” said Kotowich.
In addition to the hazardous materials in the building, Kotowich said changing conditions forced firefighters to change their strategy a number of times before they were able to get the blaze under control.
“It became a very dangerous for our firefighters to be what we consider an offensive fire. And we took a defensive posture. And we kind of stood back and with the help of that aerial device and hand lines we were able to contain the fire to that one building,” said Kotowich.
He said initially firefighters were on the roof trying to gain an upper hand.
“This building was rather old. And it has gone through multiple renovations and alterations over the years. It had three different layers of roof membranes. So when fire gets in between those roof structures, or in between those spaces, it’s very difficult for us to try and fight that fire from the ground,” said Kotowich.
According to BRFA Chief Jay Melvin, they were asked to provide aid at approximately 8:50 p.m. He said they were on route with their aerial truck at 8:59 p.m. and arrived on scene in St. Paul at 9:30 p.m. with eight firefighters.
“We gave notice on route of what we were going to require for water. Once we arrived we were positioned west of the structure providing vertical fire suppression on to the structure. That was our main task,” said Melvin.
According to Kotowich, the aerial truck is invaluable because, “they’re able to get over top of the fire and spray enormous amounts of water exactly where it’s needed.”
Kotowich said the operations continued for a couple of hours but because of how much of the building was compromised it became unsafe and the decision was made to tear down the walls using a backhoe.
“Once we did that, it was rather easy to extinguish all the fire and the hotspots,” said Kotowich.
He explained that tearing down the building was important not only for the safety of the firefighters on scene, but also so the building didn’t collapse do weather conditions in the coming days.
Thankfully for the adjacent businesses on Main St. the fire damage was contained to the building where it started, although Kotowich noted the neighbours may continue to have some smoke smell.
Asked about the cause of the fire, Kotowich said the investigation is still underway.
“We have a really good idea and I hope within the next 24 to 48 hours I can release the actual cause of the fire. But right now we are not considering it suspicious at all,” said Kotowich.
According to Kotowich, by 1:30 a.m. the fire was extinguished and they had left the scene, and by 2 a.m. everyone had cleared out of the fire hall.
A total of 24 members from St. Paul Fire responded to the call as well as eight members of BRFA.