Penhold firefighters expect to know more today about what caused a blaze at the Penholder Inn in Penhold at around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday.
“Right now there is nothing pointing to it being suspicious,” said Penhold Fire Chief Jim Pendergast on Monday, who expects to release his full report today, which will have an estimate of the dollar amount of damage.
No one was staying in the inn and nobody was injured in the fire.
An intrusion alarm went off at the inn on Sunday night, which initally brought Innisfail RCMP to the scene. But Pendergast said the police found no signs of a break and enter and the alarm was most likely set off by the fire rather than an intruder.
The smoke was so black on Sunday night that people couldn’t see across Hwy 2A and the heat was so intense that firefighters feared there would be a flashover, which is when everything in the room reaches its own ignition temperature and it all ignites at once.
Crews forcibly entered the locked building to go inside to fight the fire, which allowed them to save the building, Pendergast explained.
There were 11 Penhold firefighters and two Penhold fire engines, along with 15 Red Deer County firefighters, who brought one fire engine, one engine and ladder, two tenders, which carry water, and a cascade system to refill air bottles. Guardian Ambulance EMS, based in Innisfail, were also called in on standby.
Pendergast said firefighters have been training very hard every week for the past year and most weekends and it really paid off on Sunday night.
The historic hotel doesn’t have any sprinklers and a number of crawl spaces that make fighting a fire particularly difficult. Firefighters used thermal imaging equipment to check for hot spots and ensure no one was inside the building.
Pendergast said the fire damage was pretty much contained to the bar area, with the upstairs of the building and the liquor store next door also suffering smoke damage, but no fire or water damage.
Wendy Kroetsch, owner of the Penholder Inn for seven years, said on Monday that she hadn’t been allowed into the building yet, but hoped to be able to go inside sometime this morning. She said the rebuilding will start immediately.