Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff                                Rene Bourassa was one of the tenants who was displaced by an apartment fire in downtown Red Deer last month. He’s been resettled in Riverside Meadows, where he likes his “quieter” new home.

Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff Rene Bourassa was one of the tenants who was displaced by an apartment fire in downtown Red Deer last month. He’s been resettled in Riverside Meadows, where he likes his “quieter” new home.

Red Deer fire victim is grateful for his new start in life

The 20-25 people impacted by last month’s downtown fire have now been resettled

His black leather jacket is the only remnant of Rene Bourassa’s life before a fire destroyed his home in downtown Red Deer last month.

“I forgot it at a friend’s place,” explained the 59-year-old — which is why his motorcycle jacket survived, unlike Bourassa’s other possessions, including nearly new furniture he’d recently acquired.

All things considered, he still considers himself lucky.

“You don’t go hungry in Red Deer. There are always some nice people to help you. A lot of people have helped me and I appreciate it very much.”

Bourassa has been resettled, along with the other 20 to 25 tenants of the affordable housing complex that went up in flames on Aug. 24.

His new home is in another Potter’s Hands building on 61st Street.

“It’s quieter,” he reflects, than the downtown complex that was susceptible to disturbances from indigent people and drug users in the area.

Bourassa had initially assumed the fire bell that went off while he was watching TV in his apartment on Little Gaetz last month was a false alarm.

Homeless people had been entering the building “and were always pulling the tab down,” he said.

“But this time, it didn’t shut off,” so Bourassa climbed the stairs from his basement apartment to investigate.

When he spotted dark smoke pouring from under the door of a second-floor apartment, Bourassa began running down the hall, pounding on doors to alert others.

Soon, firefighters and police were doing the same thing.

“They told me to ‘get out now,’ and I was getting the hell out… That building was so old, it went up like a match stick,” recalled Bourassa.

He estimates the structure was fully engulfed in less than half an hour.

Red Deer and Sylvan Lake firefighters spent much of that evening dousing the blaze. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

All tenants were accounted for, but very few of their belongings were recoverable from the wreckage.

“I haven’t gone down to look yet,” admitted Bourassa, who can’t imagine the smoky smell of the items being tolerable.

He’s replaced his furniture and clothes with the $300 vouchers for the Renew Thrift Store that Potter’s Hands provided to the impacted tenants. The charitable organization also gave out beds that had recently been donated by Olds College.

“We could accommodate most of the people who wanted us to find them a place to stay,” said Seth Schalk, manager of Potter’s Hands Ministries. Other people have been housed in other buildings, including the former Buffalo and Valley hotels.

“It wasn’t a problem. We just had to find out who wanted to live where…”

But he believes the loss of the downtown affordable housing complex will be felt by many other low-income people in the city.

Red Deer lacked affordable housing before the fire, and the gap is now even wider since there are fewer accommodations available for other people in need, he added.

Potter’s Hands has been partnering with the Mustard Seed and other local agencies to help those impacted by the downtown fire.

Bourassa, a Saskatchewan native who’d roamed North America for the “adventure” before coming to Red Deer in 1989, said “I’d just like people to know, don’t give up hope. There are a lot of organizations here willing to help you.”

red deer city

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

Dustin Mitchell (Coats) is wanted by police in relation to a homicide this past Wednesday. (Photo contributed by Red Deer RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP looking for man in relation to homicide

An arrest warrant has been issued for a Red Deer man in… Continue reading

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Collin Orthner, manager at McBain Camera in downtown Red Deer, stands behind the store’s counter on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
A few Red Deer businesses happy with Black Friday results

While this year’s Black Friday wasn’t as successful as it was in… Continue reading

Le Chateau Inc. is the latest Canadian firm to start producing personal protective equipment for health care workers, in a July 3, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Hundreds of millions of dollars for frontline workers yet to be released, says Alberta Federation of Labour

Information recently released by the Alberta Federation of Labour suggests more than… Continue reading

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Ottawa. Poilievre says building up the Canadian economy post-pandemic can't be achieved without a massive overhaul of the tax system and regulatory regime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservatives attack Trudeau’s ‘reset’ but they have ideas for their own

‘We don’t need subsidized corporate welfare schemes that rely on endless bailouts from the taxpayer’

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

There were 47 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Spread of COVID-19 in Brampton, Ont., linked to systemic factors, experts say

‘We’re tired. We’re numb. We’re overworked. We’re frustrated, because it’s not our rules’

The courthouse in Iqaluit is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Three Nunavut judges, including the chief justice, are at odds over whether prison conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered when sentencing offenders in the territory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter
Nunavut judges disagree on how to sentence offenders during pandemic

IQALUIT — Three Nunavut judges, including the territory’s chief justice, are at… Continue reading

A corrections officer opens the door to a cell in the segregation unit at the federal Fraser Valley Institution for Women during a media tour, in Abbotsford, B.C., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Independent reviews of the hundreds of inmates placed in segregation over the past year found only a handful were inappropriate, new government data indicate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Few federal inmates moved from solitary after external reviews, new data show

‘There can be rare cases where the removal may not be immediate’

A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

Banff National Park. (The Canadian Press)
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

EDMONTON — A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths on railway tracks… Continue reading

Cows on pasture at the University of Vermont dairy farm eat hay Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Burlington, Vt. Canadian dairy farmers are demanding compensation from the government because of losses to their industry they say have been caused by a series of international trade deals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lisa Rathke
Feds unveil more funding for dairy, poultry and egg farmers hurt by free trade deals

OTTAWA — Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share… Continue reading

Most Read