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

City’s COVID-19 cases jump to nine from six

Central zone active cases remains lowest of all zones

City of Red Deer trims staff by five per cent to deal with new economic realities

Downsizing of the municipal workforce will cut the annual budget by $7 million

Boys and Girls Club haunted house cancelled

Popular spookfest postponed because of pandemic health restrictions

Demand at Catholic Social Services jumps during pandemic

Provincial fundraising campaign launched

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Murray, Nuggets hang on in Game 3, cut Lakers’ lead to 2-1

Murray, Nuggets hang on in Game 3, cut Lakers’ lead to 2-1

Indians clinch post-season berth; Braves claim NL East title

Indians clinch post-season berth; Braves claim NL East title

Major League Rugby to kick off fourth season in March 2021 with 13 teams

Major League Rugby to kick off fourth season in March 2021 with 13 teams

Mickelson and late-night range session key for DeChambeau

Mickelson and late-night range session key for DeChambeau

Toronto FC learns rest of rejigged MLS schedule, with a busy October ahead

Toronto FC learns rest of rejigged MLS schedule, with a busy October ahead

Andreescu out for rest of tennis season to focus on health and training

Andreescu out for rest of tennis season to focus on health and training

Cole has sharp playoff prep as Yankees rout Blue Jays 12-1

Cole has sharp playoff prep as Yankees rout Blue Jays 12-1

Jeff steps down as FC Edmonton coach, will stay on in player development role

Jeff steps down as FC Edmonton coach, will stay on in player development role

Most Read