Retirement complex fire in Lethbridge caused improper cigarette disposal

By Dori Modney - Lethbridge News Now
July 15, 2017 - 5:03am

LETHBRIDGE — As the result of collected evidence and witness statements, fire officials have concluded that improper disposal of a cigarette was the cause of Tuesday`s fire at the Gardens of West Highlands.
Officially, the fire is deemed accidental.
Fire Marshall Heath Wright has a word of caution for anyone disposing of lit cigarettes.
`"Ensuring that it is put into a non combustible container with either sand or water and it (the cigarette) is fully submersed in the water and when people actually see that it is out, I would emphasize that."
Wright noted that fire officials don't, as a rule, estimate damage amounts, since they don`t have the facts behind the value of the building and its contents.
However, he said. "I'm looking at between $2 Million and $3 Million is losses, by the time contents, water damage and everything else is included."
It still isn't known when some residents will be allowed back into the building.  The fire department has worked with the primary insurance company, as far as safety measures that need to be implemented as guidelines for residents to return.
 Wright noted that a number of major fires in the last few years have been due to improper disposal of cigarette material.
"I just want to emphasize to people that, please, be careful when you're smoking and if you do desire to have that cigarette, just ensure that you actually see that it is out, because it's everybody's responsibility to make our community safe."
Wright confirms they have looked at the call for a potential bylaw that would deal with discarded cigarettes, including those tossed from vehicles.
"There is potential and we have looked at it.  I know there are other provinces and jurisdictions have looked at it but, at this point in time, the municipality of Lethbridge is not looking at that.
"I would like to say to citizens, if you are disposing of cigarettes out of your vehicle, please don't - just don't do it."
A total of 35 firefighters from four stations were called to the large-scale event at the Gardens' at West Highlands retirement home around 3:00-pm on Tuesday (July 11). They were confronted by smoke pouring from the roof and flames climbing above that.

Staff and others who stepped forward to help with the rescue, which prevented the outcome from being much worse.

 Fire Chief Rich Hildebrandt called the fire a fire chief's and a firefighter's worst nightmare, "So many things could have gone  horribly wrong and it was nothing short of a miracle that there wasn't a single person hurt in this fire, as we've got a population that has some mobility challenges and medical challenges, and with all that in place, the staff of that facility and the people who rushed to their aid, and our firefighters and police were able to get all of those people out of that building without a single injury."

The fire chief also credited extensive engineered and regulated fire safety structural requirements which worked in this case, and that fact that so many good people rushed in to help those inside the condo complex.


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