Charred rubble is all that remains of a shopping mall in Steinbach after a fire tore through the building over the weekend, releasing toxic smoke and killing dozens of animals at a pet store.
Steinbach Fire Department crews were called to the mall on Main Street between Friesen Avenue and Reimer Avenue around 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The building housed a paint store, pet store, and flooring retailer.
Area resident Autumn Poitras said she heard the alarms on Sunday afternoon.
“I’m going to take a look outside and I see smoke coming out and I noticed a strange smell,” she said.
Watching the burnt rubble is difficult for Steven Larson, the manager of the Best West Pet Foods store that was inside the mall.
“I knew it was bad, but still, seeing it in person, it’s even worse than I thought,” Larson told CTV News.
He had received a call from an employee working at the store on Sunday afternoon, telling him that she smelled of smoke. Larson thought it was a loose or frayed wire — nothing serious — until his employee called back a few minutes later in a panic, saying smoke was pouring from the vents.
By the time Larson arrived at the store, fire crews were already battling the blaze.
The fire broke out in a shopping center in Steinbach on July 10, 2022. (Source: Facebook/Kenni Harder)
“We weren’t allowed into the building, but a couple of firefighters went and got all the animals they could, so we got some out – not enough, but we got some,” Larson said.
He said that although there are more than 100 animals in the store, only three reptiles – two bearded dragons and a chameleon – were saved from the fire before things got worse.
“Shortly after, I saw the flames starting from the top of the building,” he said. .”
Kelvin Toews, the fire chief of the Steinbach fire department, said crews from the La Broquerie and Hannover fire departments helped fight the blaze.
“We determined it was no longer safe for us to be in the building. We withdrew and launched a defensive attack,” he said.
It was a challenge made even more difficult when flames spread through a paint and flooring store, both of which contained highly flammable materials.
This triggered an air quality advisory.
In a statement, the Steinbach Fire Department said an air quality advisory was issued in Steinbach “due to the content nature” of the structure involved. The city of Steinbach tweeted that the smoke is considered toxic.
While the warning was lifted on Monday afternoon, Toews said the smoke could continue to linger.
“People in direct proximity here should always be careful,” he said. “There will be residual smoke billowing from the building, but it shouldn’t go much further than a city block.”
Toews said crews were on the scene Sunday night and throughout Monday battling the blaze and extinguishing hot spots.
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, but the building is a total loss. Toews said no injuries were reported.
Larson said that as he found out what his next steps would be for the pet store, the community rallied behind him.
“We all feel so much love from the community, people worry about us and they feel almost as devastated as we do,” he said.