Four houses were destroyed in a devastating fire in a Sylvan Lake neighbourhood late Tuesday afternoon, the ambient heat enough to peel the siding on nearby homes.
At least seven houses were also damaged, as was a vehicle parked in front of one of the houses. There were no injuries reported.
“When I got here, these first two houses were already engulfed in flames,” said Sylvan Lake RCMP Cpl. Malcolm Callihoo, who responded at about 5 p.m. to a call of “a possible explosion.”
The Sylvan Lake fire department arrived shortly after, as did Frank Harris, a field officer with Alberta Emergency Management Agency and the man who will start the fire investigation this morning.
“At this time we have no idea what actually occurred,” Harris said as firefighters from Red Deer County and Sylvan Lake continued to douse flames at the corner of Wildrose Drive and Windward Place.
Scuttlebutt among neighbours, who stood watching while hundreds of people cruised by in their cars and on foot, was that propane tank explosions may have caused the fire. Callihoo confirmed there were propane tanks on one of the house’s balconies, but was unable say if this was a factor.
Tahl Burk, who lives a few houses down from the gutted homes, said he could hear what he believed to be propane tank explosions about every 10 minutes since returning home from work at about 4:30 p.m.
“My wife and kids were already trying to get the cats out of the house (when he arrived),” said Burk. “It was pretty freaky. Way too close to home.”
Tyler Schafer, who lives in a cul-de-sac across from the destroyed corner, said he started watching the fire just minutes after it started.
“I remember watching one house and it had taken off to a second one and in a couple of minutes a third one had caught on fire. The wind was blowing it,” he said.
“You can look at the proximity of the homes, they’re fairly close to property lines,” said Harris. “That may have been a factor.”
Schafer said emergency services didn’t arrive until 15 or 20 minutes after the fire started, by which time significant damage was already done. Some neighbours suggested the fire department got stuck on Lakeshore Drive.
Rhea Cordell, stuck behind the police tape with everyone else, said her friend had purchased one of the destroyed houses a week ago and moved his belongings in.
“And it’s gone. He was pretty upset. It’s insane,” said Cordell. “Pretty much his attitude right now is it’s just stuff, not people.”
Harris estimated the damage at well over a million dollars.
Because he lives in Sylvan and works in Red Deer, the fire investigator was unusually able to be on scene during the fire and snap some photographs that he says will aid him in discovering its origin and cause.
Photos from Tuesday fire in Sylvan Lake