The MacEwan fire in Edmonton: One of the city’s most devastating

View of damaged homes

I was briefly awoken this morning by the sounds of fire engines sometime before 6 AM, but quickly fell back asleep. When I woke up for real, I found out that many residents in a neighbourhood adjacent to mine did not have that luxury, as their homes were consumed or damaged in Edmonton’s largest residential fire. The huge fire destroyed nine duplex (twin-family) houses and damaged a further 76, mostly from one condo complex, and left hundreds without a home.

The fire occurred in a neighbourhood called MacEwan, which like mine, consists mostly of new houses not more than two or three years old. It started around 5 AM in an apartment complex that was under construction and spread rapidly. The fire basically leveled an entire block, and was the largest many of the firefighters in Edmonton had ever seen. Luckily, a 500-pound propane tank on the construction site was removed before the flames were able to get to it, saving the area from further destruction. I actually pass by the area several times a week during my run, as it’s less than a 10 minute walk from my house.

Thankfully, no one was injured due to the actions of the fire department and neighbours who alerted others of the blaze, but the fire department was quick to comment that “lax building codes” exacerbated the situation:

Damage could have been minimized, they said, if building codes required a greater distance between houses and required certain types of siding to be used.

It was estimated that there was around $20-$25 million in damages – many of the homes in the area were probably worth between $300-500K. With the rising cost of land in Edmonton, it’s no wonder that developers are trying to squish in as many houses as possible to a given area. Unfortunately, it seems that this may have contributed to the devastating effects of the fire. Hopefully, the changes the fire department wishes will come into effect as a result of this tragedy.

Melted siding

I went down to the area around 6 PM today to take some photos. Some areas of the blaze were still smoldering, though the area around the fire was pretty much open to the public. A lot of other people were crowded around as well. I felt sorry for the people I saw there talking to the fire department in order to get permission to return to their damaged home, briefly, to retrieve a few personal belongings and empty out their fridge. Besides the fire department, EMTs and police were also present – it must have been a long day for them. EPCOR (the utilities provider) had also showed up, along with TELUS and a natural gas company.

The damage was astounding. The heat must have been tremendous, since houses across the street from the blaze had melted siding – these homeowners were the lucky ones. Houses closer to the construction site where the fire started were either burnt down completely, or severely damaged. I’ve uploaded all the photos I took to my Zooomr account, so you can see the destruction for yourself. I’m very thankful to not have been affected by this, since the blaze happened in a neighbourhood that is built exactly like mine.

Where the apartment construction site once stoodAlmost burnt down house


Check out this discussion at the Globe and Mail for some comments about the fire from Albertans and other Canadians.

Update #2 (July 24th)

The cause of the fire has now been ruled an arson by “process of elimination”, according to investigators with the Edmonton Fire Department, confirming what many suspected. With the fire having been deliberately set, a criminal investigation is now underway. Hopefully the perpetrator(s) can be caught, though it’s unlikely they will be able to return their debt to society.

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