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City firefighters battle the blaze on McMillan Avenue Sunday afternoon. Finding an unfrozen hydrant was a struggle.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

City firefighters battle the blaze on McMillan Avenue Sunday afternoon. Finding an unfrozen hydrant was a struggle.

Flames engulfed a vacant century-old McMillan Avenue home twice on Sunday -- in the middle of the night and again Sunday afternoon.

Firefighters battling the blaze Sunday afternoon struggled to cope with hydrants still covered with ice from the first fire.

Neighbours gathered outside 928 McMillan Ave. to watch firefighters who kept the flames from the 21/2-storey home just east of Stafford Street from spreading to other properties.

Chainsaw-wielding firefighters cut down trees to access the house more easily.

Fire officials estimated damage at $250,000, but are still investigating the causes of the two fires.

"We know that it's a vacant house," district fire chief Jo Vanderhorst said at the scene. "The windows were boarded and it was hard to get in. We started removing things right away."

The first fire was spotted around 2:30 a.m., the second at 4 p.m.

Fire officials said the fire commissioner's office will investigate both fires as soon as the house is accessible.

Vanderhorst was uncertain where the afternoon fire had started, but he said the overnight blaze began at the rear of the house.

Because the closest hydrants were frozen, firefighters had to use an alternative pumping system a block south on Corydon Avenue to get running water.

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Police blocked off traffic in both directions on Stafford between Grosvenor Avenue and Corydon. Traffic on Corydon was also disrupted for several hours.

Police taped off the area around the burning home and refused pedestrian entry, but one woman insisted on getting her car a block from the fire. She walked through the tape barricade against objections and slipped as she walked away.

As smoke billowed into the sky, neighbours said the vacant house had previously been plagued by vandalism and people breaking in to do drugs.

"There's always graffiti and people with drug problems hanging around that house and the one beside it, it's abandoned, too, but I know that some of our neighbours have called the police in the past," said Sean Forsyth, a nearby resident.

Another neighbour said she has lived on McMillan her whole life and had rousted some children kicking in windows at the vacant home last week.

A woman who identified herself as the owner of the house, Gayle Marcus, said her company, Active Building, had planned to build a complex condominium project on the property.

Marcus stared intently at the fire, her eyes glossy.

"It's still in process," she said. "It's too bad, but what's more important is that nobody's in the house."

Sunday night, firefighters were discussing the likelihood the home would have to be demolished.

City assessment records show the 1,684-square-foot wood-frame house was built in 1911. It had eight rooms.

breanne.massey@freepress.mb.ca