House fire a brush with death
Condo-project arson spreads
TRAPPED between flames on their front porch and on the wheelchair ramp in the rear, Neda Procner could only think of two things: she wasn’t going to leave her sister, who uses a wheelchair, and they were going to die.
That’s when Winnipeg firefighters sprayed water onto the roof over the front porch and a firefighter broke through their front door.
“The emergency staff were amazing,” Procner said Saturday, looking at her heavily damaged home of 21 years just hours after the ordeal.
“We wouldn’t be alive if not for them. Everything happened in five minutes, from the time I got up to when we got out.”
Procner and her sister Helen live next door to a condominium being constructed at Maryland Street and Westminster Avenue, which police believe was set on fire early Saturday.
The flames spread to Procner’s house next door on Maryland and jumped across the back lane, heavily damaging another house on Westminster at about 3:40 a.m.
Procner said the entire family in that house — including a baby born a few months ago — also escaped before the structure was gutted.
She said she was asleep in her third-floor bedroom when she awoke to the sounds of “crackling noises” and saw an orange glow coming through the window.
When Procner made her way downstairs and looked out the back window, she saw an electrical panel on the house behind on fire and saw sparks and flames on the wooden wheelchair ramp outside. She ran to her sister’s first-floor bedroom.
“I told my sister — who was now up — we have to get out. I called 911 and said the house next door is on fire, and my sister is in a wheelchair. They said someone had already called and they were on their way.
“We went to the front door, but the front porch was in flames, so we couldn’t get out. That’s when I saw the firefighters show up.
“They couldn’t see us. I opened the (inner) door to call them, and so much smoke came in and I had to put my arm up over my nose. I looked around and couldn’t see my sister because of the smoke. Then they sprayed water over the roof of the porch.
“That’s when the firefighter broke through the door and yelled at me to get out. They pulled me out right away. I rushed across the road to a neighbour’s. I didn’t know if my sister was still alive. But they carried her out. “Her wheelchair is still in the house, melted.” Procner, her sister and four firefighters were taken to hospital to be treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. All were later listed in stable condition.
Winnipeg Fire District Chief Greg Cannell said the firefighters were injured rescuing the woman in the wheelchair and fighting the blaze.
Cannell said there is no damage estimate yet, but the unfinished condo was completely destroyed, and they also consider the other two houses writeoffs.
He said the cause of the fire is considered suspicious, and it is being investigated by the arson unit.
Winnipeg police closed Westminster and Maryland to traffic for several hours Saturday.
Manitoba Hydro also cut off electricity to the entire block.
Cannell said because of the possibility the fire was caused by arson, police and fire personnel also checked a similar condominium under construction further down on Maryland, beside the historic Woodsworth House, and found it to be fine.
Winnipeg police said they also evacuated several
Firefighters work at the scene of a massive overnight blaze that started in an under- construction condo building and spread to neighbouring homes.