Fire breaks out at student highrise under construction in Winnipeg

Callooh Callay

WINNIPEG—Flames from a burning student housing highrise that’s under construction lit up the sky in Winnipeg early Saturday and forced the closure of a major thoroughfare on the city’s south side. The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said crews responded to the blaze at the 15-storey tower on Pembina Highway, near […]

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WINNIPEG—Flames from a burning student housing highrise that’s under construction lit up the sky in Winnipeg early Saturday and forced the closure of a major thoroughfare on the city’s south side.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said crews responded to the blaze at the 15-storey tower on Pembina Highway, near the University of Manitoba, at about 12:30 a.m. on Saturday.

In addition to heavy flames and smoke coming from the building, they said, falling debris caused smaller fires to pop up around the structure.

Two nearby residential buildings were evacuated as a precaution, but all residents have since returned to their homes.

Janice Lukes, a city councillor who has been a proponent of the complex, lives nearby and raced to the scene. She said firefighters told her that they initially went up the stairs of the burning building but were then told to get out.

Lukes said firefighters told her there were large orange tarps that were on fire that blew off the building, and some scaffolding had fallen, too.

“There was another apartment block beside it that had to be evacuated because there was a very large crane — I don’t know, the crane must be 19 storeys high — and it’s right beside them attached to the building and there was concern that the crane may fall on the nearby apartment block.”

She said there was also concern for a rail line that runs beside the building.

A news release from the fire department said crews launched a defensive attack with aerial ladders and used a drone to get visuals.

There are no reports of injuries, and no word yet on the cause of the fire.

Pembina Highway was closed in both directions in the area for much of the morning but reopened in stages later in the day, although officials warned drivers to be cautious since the water used to fight the fire was frozen onto the road.

Called “The Arc,” the tower is on private land and is being built by developer Campus Suites. It was scheduled to open in September 2020.

Reached in Toronto on Saturday, Campus Suites president Henry Morton said pictures appear to show damage to the upper floor. He said it’s too soon to say if the opening date will be affected by the fire.

“At present we think everything else is fine, but it’s a work in process,” Morton said, noting he’ll be coming to Winnipeg to see the site for himself in the coming days.

Lukes said the project is important because it will help alleviate a major housing crunch for the University of Manitoba. She said the campus is surrounded by small 1970s bungalows, many of which are divided up and rented to students as single rooms, which are sometimes in basements without windows.

The Arc, she said, will house 570 people.

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“It’s just a landmark, it’s an entry-point to the city of Winnipeg. It’s just like a diamond even though there’s nothing in it except the concrete floors and the light that the construction workers use, from a distance it just sparkles,” she said.

“It’s not the Twin Towers, but it’s a very tall building on the Prairies, and the flat prairie.”

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