Most victims of Penhold apartment fire have left town in search of new homes

Most of the displaced tenants of Wild Rose Manor have left Penhold to find a new place to call home.

Most of the displaced tenants of Wild Rose Manor have left Penhold to find a new place to call home.

A massive fire destroyed the 18-unit apartment building, one of two in the small town of about 2,500 residents, on April 10. Residents were forced to go to hotels and homes of friends and families.

Mayor Dennis Cooper said only three or four residents left in Penhold. The others have relocated to Springbrook or Red Deer.

“We’re losing 30 residents,” said Cooper. “Our town is growing quite rapidly. You hate to see them go. We also lost 18 apartments that were reasonably priced so people with tighter incomes could afford to live here.”

The 40-year-old building on 40 Esther Close pre-dated current codes that are designed to slow down the spread of a fire, including requirements for fire doors, fire walls, sprinklers and fire retardant materials.

Fire investigators say a barbecue on a second floor balcony likely caused the estimated $3 million fire.

Fire chief Jim Pendergast said the cost of fighting the blaze could reach $300,000. The department is still waiting for bills from Red Deer County, Innisfail and Red Deer fire departments, and other groups for their support during the blaze. He expects to have a final tally in several weeks.

Jim Guilbault, the Lacombe-based building owner, is weighing his options about rebuilding. The fire caused about $3 million in damages but the building was insured for roughly $1.8 million. Guilbault said he will wait to see a feasibility study, estimates from builders and more information from the insurance company before he makes a decision. Guilbault owns several rental properties and has owned Wild Rose Manor for about 18 years.

Guilbault has met with most of the tenants since the fire. He has returned security deposits and the balance of the month’s rent. There are a few tenants he has not been able to reach.

Volunteers, the Town of Penhold, the Salvation Army and the Canadian Red Cross stepped in to help after the blaze. Cooper said there was a tremendous outpouring of donations, including cash, furnishings and other supplies from throughout Central Alberta.

The town stopped taking donations on Wednesday. Cooper said each tenant will receive another cheque for $530. Shortly after the fire, tenants received a cheque for $494.

The unused clothing will go to the Salvation Army and the leftover food will go to the local food bank.

Cooper said the silver lining in this disaster was the support from the community. Recently a group of residents hosted a public fair in Penhold and raised about $6,000 for the fire victims.

“It built community,” said Cooper. “You know we put on events at the town and a lot of times we do not get the best turnout but here there was really good turnout with what we are doing. That’s just great to see.”

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