Candace McKay heard the fire alarm ringing.

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This article was published 27/12/2019 (496 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Candace McKay heard the fire alarm ringing.

People often pulled it at the Vesta apartment building, so she and her partner weren’t sure whether something was truly burning early Thursday. However, McKay, 32, sensed something was wrong, so they made their way into the hall on the third floor.

When they opened the door to the stairwell, all they saw was black.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Ihor Holowczynsky at the scene of an apartment fire on Agnes Street on Boxing Day. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Ihor Holowczynsky at the scene of an apartment fire on Agnes Street on Boxing Day. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Ten minutes later, at about 2:20 a.m., McKay was outside on the 500 block of Agnes Street as flames — which originated in the suite directly above hers — began to engulf the entire block.

"I was in shock, and then reality set in," McKay said, seated in the lobby of a downtown Winnipeg hotel Friday, where the Canadian Red Cross was putting her up. "I have nothing. I don’t have a home. I’ve been crying off and on, telling my partner that I just want to go home. But where’s home? I don’t have one anymore."

McKay and her partner aren’t the only ones feeling lost after a fire — the origins of which are under investigation — and the subsequent water and smoke damage rendered the century-old West End building at 578 Agnes St. destroyed beyond repair.

Thirty-one adults and four children have been displaced, a Red Cross representative said.

Fire crews battle the blaze. (City of Winnipeg)</p>

Fire crews battle the blaze. (City of Winnipeg)

The non-profit is providing support to each of them for three days, which, dependent on personal needs, includes hotel accommodations, food, clothing, personal hygiene items, and transportation support, such as bus passes. The assistance is intended to be a bridge of support while social services, insurance, and other personal matters are put in order.

Candace Lamb, a communications co-ordinator for the local Red Cross, said in the last year, the organization provided support to more than 500 Manitobans affected by personal disasters. She said it costs about $2,000 to support a family of four, and suggested people hoping to help the evacuees make financial donations.

For many of Thursday's evacuees, there wasn’t enough time to grab personal effects such as cellphones, documentation, or medication. The building’s damage was so extensive they were unable to re-enter to retrieve any belongings.

A woman named Shelly, also staying at the downtown hotel, lived next to the unit where the fire started. She was forced outside without shoes, wearing only a nightgown. Left behind were photographs of her children, the clipping of her father’s obituary, and everything else she owned.

All residents were able to flee to safety after flames broke out early Thursday in the apartment block at 578 Agnes St. The building, which had been up for sale, couldn’t be salvaged and was to be demolished. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p></p>

All residents were able to flee to safety after flames broke out early Thursday in the apartment block at 578 Agnes St. The building, which had been up for sale, couldn’t be salvaged and was to be demolished. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Shelly was wearing a grey sweatsuit McKay gave her, and shoes her parents bought her. But other than that, she’s got nothing.

For McKay, what hurts the most is seeing the building’s older residents left struggling to rebuild. She said although she wants to find a new place, she’d rather they find one first. "We have a family member willing to let us stay with her, so if that’s what it comes down to, that’s the option we’ll take," she said.

In 2009, McKay’s apartment in the North End was damaged by fire, but she was able to salvage some clothing and furniture.

"This time, it’s nothing," she said. "Just the clothes on our backs."

A short drive away, demolition crews had already taken most of the apartment building down by noon Friday.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
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