2018 Story of the Year: May Long fire leaves downtown Brandon reeling

A multi-alarm blaze broke out on May 19, destroying two buildings and damaging to two others located along Pacific Avenue in Brandon’s downtown core. The incident has been chosen by Westman Journal staff as the city’s “Story of the Year.”

Hot, dry weather conditions contributed to a massive, four-building fire that spread from a long-standing downtown Brandon business on May 19 of 2018.

Brandon Fire and Emergency Services (BFES) responded to an afternoon call of a fire at the Christie’s Office Plus building on Pacific Avenue. The building was completely on fire by the time they arrived, generating conditions that led to heat and embers putting three other buildings in danger of being destroyed. No one died in the incident, but the blaze caused a total of $25 million in damages.

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Secondary fires flared at The Cold Beer Store, Massey Manor, The Code Bar and the facility housing Collyer’s Sales and Service, the Brandon Boxing Club and Kazic Kontracting. Both the Christie’s Office Plus location and the building containing the Collyer’s Sales and Service and the boxing club were completely destroyed.

“The fire generates so much heat, air currents, flying embers and radiant heat that it set the roof of the Massey (Manor) building on fire and also carried embers into the vendor area and the old nightclub,” BFES deputy chief Scott McDonald told the Westman Journal not long after the incident. “Then again, embers and radiant heat set the Collyer’s roof on fire, so that is how we ended up with multiple structures involved.”

The blaze was so extensive, BFES called fire crews from CFB Shilo, Souris and Wawanesa alongside assistance from the Office of the Fire Commissioner and Manitoba Hydro for aid.

“All of them stepped up to make sure we had the resources available to manage this incident,” said McDonald. “I have been with the BFES for 33 years and I can make a comment now that in all my years, we have never had to engage mutual aide for the City of Brandon. However, the system is there and the system worked.”

At and near Massey Manor, more than 175 people – including 72 children – were evacuated from their residences. Ultimately, 22 families had to be relocated as a result of the damage sustained to the apartment complex.

“Many of the families have been moved to larger apartments than they had at Massey, with large yards for the children to play in,” Brandon Global Market program manager Stephanie Lockerby said two months after the fire. Global Market is the property’s managing organization.

Repairs to Massey Manor included the demolition of all drywall and the roof, alongside the removal of insulation and flooring. This portion of the rebuilding process was completed through the summer.

“(The rebuilding project) will be a multi-million dollar job,” said Glen Kruck, regional manager of Brandon Global Market. “What most people do not realize is that the vast majority of damage was from water being poured onto the roof in order to extinguish the fire.”

The renovations to Massey Manor associated with the fire have been covered by insurance, while fundraisers were held for displaced residents who lost personal property in the incident. Several organizations – including the Brandon Bear Clan, the Salvation Army and the St. Matthews Church – quickly jumped into the fray to help, collecting food, clothing and other household supplies for victims. A Go Fund Me page was also created, which raised more than $13,000.

“It is very impacting on the community in general,” McDonald said not long after the fire. “There are all these people that you want to make sure they are well taken care of and have a good, safe place to stay.”

Meanwhile, Noel Harding was thousands of kilometers away preparing for a boxing match when he learned that the building containing his boxing club was destroyed. The fire gutted his gym and destroyed about $100,000 worth of equipment. The Brandon Boxing Club was not insured at the time of the blaze.

“It was absolutely devastating. I was 3500 kilometers away in Mexico,” Harding said in July. “I ended up going ahead, won my fight and returned very hopeful. However, we remain very far away from what we need to continue.”

As the summer moved along, Harding sought a new, temporary location for his operation. He even approached the Brandon’s city council for help in getting re-established at a new site. At the time, the landlord for the Brandon Boxing Club planned to rebuild and Harding suggested he’d like to move the gym back to the Pacific Avenue location.

– With notes from Brandi Pollock, Derek Holtom and Ashley Anderson.

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