An investigation remains ongoing into what is considered to be a suspicious fire that destroyed the Elks Hall in Leslieville Friday night.
According to Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services Regional Fire Chief Steve Debienne, they received the call just after 7 p.m., with crews from Station 10 in Leslieville responding right away and on scene 16 minutes later.
Debienne says they found heavy flames coming from the back of the building and smoke billowing from the eves when they arrived.
“That triggered an increase of our response and we stood up another three stations, so Station 20 out of Condor, Station 30 out of Caroline and Station 60 out of Rocky Mountain House all responded to the incident,” stated Debienne. “The building was vacant at the time of the fire, there was no injuries reported either during the fire and or after the fire.”
Debienne points out there were 33 firefighters on scene during the peak of the blaze but had to back off after a while as the flames grew too intense. Luckily added Debienne, no other nearby structures were damaged by the fire.
“This is a devastating loss for the Hamlet of Leslieville and the members and the folks around here,” laments Debienne. “Losing an Elks Hall in a community of any size is going to be devastating but this Elks group has been very active in the community and supports all the community initiatives, so it’s a devastating loss for them and this community.”
Having said that, Debienne also acknowledges how supportive the Elks Club and community has been towards them during this difficult time.
“The Hamlet of Leslieville has been absolutely incredible bringing the firefighters warm drinks, something to eat and just trying to help the best they can.”
Scott Finkbeiner from the Leslieville area was witness to the firefighter’s efforts. He says it’s really unfortunate to have lost such an historic piece of history in the community.
“The Elks are a big part of the community and it is sad to see,” says Finkbeiner. “It was originally a school and for many years until now, has been used as the Elks Lodge.”
Royce Koester is a 15-year member of the Elks in Leslieville and the recently appointed Exalted Ruler. He says the Elks have been in Leslieville for nearly 70 years, with a lot of new, young members right now and a great organization that helps the community. He describes this fire as a ‘terrible loss’ for the community.
“We’re letting it burn at this point just to try and preserve some evidence,” continues Clearwater Regional Fire Chief Steve Debienne. “If we put a bunch of water on it now in this temperature, it’s going to turn into an ice box and really hamper the investigation phase.”
Debienne says RCMP and firefighters are going to remain on scene now around the clock until they can sift through the smoldering rubble again on Tuesday.
“We’re lucky that nobody was injured in the fire, it was a very large fire,” says Debienne. “Our crews battled everything they could to try and minimize the damage but the fire grew too intense and too quickly and became a very dangerous fire.”
He says they pooled all their emergency response personnel to help fight the flames, then partnered with ambulance staff to look after the firefighters and ensure they stayed safe.
“Rocky Search and Rescue came out with a heated trailer to help keep equipment and firefighters in somewhat warmth and RCMP helped with scene security,” added Debienne. “A fire of this size drew a lot of attention last night and of course with the shuttle operations, they’re dripping water so the streets became icy, so it was a bit of a safety concern, not only for our staff but for the public as well.”
Debienne says he can’t emphasize enough the importance of partnerships in situations like these.
“The partnerships within the emergency service, you know we work on every single day and it’s nice to know the faces prior to an emergency, so we continue to build that relationship daily and we’ve got a very strong relationship within our group out here.”
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