Plumbing repair is being cited as the cause of an apartment fire that forced 60 people out of their suites in Lacombe early Thursday morning.
Residents of Essex House, located on Northstar Drive, were taken for coffee and then moved to temporary housing after a tenant reported smelling smoke at about 1:30 a.m.
Fire and insurance investigators have concluded that the fire started between the second and third floors as a result of plumbing repairs performed in a second-floor suite the previous day, Lacombe Fire Chief Daryl Friesen said on Monday.
Material in the area of the repair work had started to smoulder after a soldering iron was used to join copper pipes, said Friesen.
However, no one noticed anything amiss until hours later, when the smouldering material caught fire, he said.
Six of the building’s 39 suites took extensive damage and were deemed uninhabitable. The fire had worked upward, affecting suites on the second and third floors while pipe joints melted, causing extensive water damage on first and second floor, said Friesen.
Reeve Martin, owner of the company that manages the building, said he spent the next three days in Lacombe, meeting with tenants and organizing the insurance claim and restoration efforts.
A restoration company went in on Friday to clean up the building so tenants in the undamaged suites were able to move back home that night, said Martin.
Systems built into the building, including fire walls, fire doors and pressurized suites ensured that the smoke did not enter areas that were not directly affected by the fire, he said.
Of the tenants who were in the six suites that were heavily damaged, some have been moved into suites that were vacant at the time of the fire while another tenant was moved on Monday into a suite that had just become vacant.
Tenants from two other suites are staying with family members until they can return home, said Martin.
He credits emergency responders from Lacombe, Blackfalds and Ponoka with getting everyone out safely and ensuring that their needs were met while getting the fire under control.
“The emergency response people — the police and the fire — I mean, they were just spectacular, absolutely spectacular. We’re very thankful that they were all there to help all these people out.
“The reality is, everybody’s safe and that’s the main thing, isn’t it?”