Cigarette causes Heritage Lane duplex fire

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A cigarette in a planter was the cause of a fire last week that left two Heritage Lane families homeless and caused about $1 million in damages.

About 40 St. Albert firefighters and four fire trucks swarmed 64 Heritage Lane at noon on Friday after a passing motorist reported a fire at that address. The house is one half of a duplex in the Heritage Lane II subdivision near the Riel Industrial Park.

Johannes Bosch, a senior and owner of the house in question, said that the young woman he rented the home to had come home from a meeting and smelled something funny in the home. Soon, she spotted smoke rolling across the ceiling.

“All of a sudden she sees flames shooting up like crazy” from the front of the house, Bosch said.

The woman, who did not wish to give her name, alerted her babysitter upstairs to the fire. The two of them escaped out the back door with the woman’s two-year old son, Bosch said.

Andy Nikiforuk said he was next door at 65 Heritage Lane visiting his daughter, son-in-law, and their baby when the fire broke out. A passing truck driver had spotted the fire and knocked on their door to warn them.

“When we saw what was going on, we got the dog and the baby out,” said Nikiforuk, warming up in the car of his son-in-law’s father.

“I could see under the cupola (over the door) that there was something right on the ground that was burning,” he said.

The fire spread to the cupola and engulfed the front corner of the duplex in about 15 minutes, he continued.

The outside of the home was ablaze when firefighters arrived, said St. Albert fire chief Keven Lefebvre.

As thick white smoke poured from the home’s doors and windows, firefighters in oxygen masks cautiously ventured inside to hose down the interior. Crews hacked open parts of the garage overhang with pikes and took a chainsaw to the garage door. They also took hoses into 65 Heritage Lane, a pair of balloons from a birthday party held there the previous weekend escaping as they did so.

The fire left the inside and much of the front of 64 Heritage scorched black and melted a large patch of the siding on 63 Heritage Lane (the neighbouring duplex). The fire also reportedly damaged the walls of 65 Heritage.

The fire caused roughly $1 million in damages, with 64 and 65 Heritage likely total losses due to extensive smoke and fire damage, Lefebvre said.

While it was a bit of a shock to lose his home, Bosch was resigned to it, saying that it was just a home and that he was glad everyone was safe. His tenant had a place to stay and was fully insured.

Nikiforuk said that his daughter would likely stay with either him or her husband’s parents while they got back on their feet.

Fire investigators have determined that this blaze was sparked by a cigarette put out in a planter in front of the home, Lefebvre said – something that happens way too often in Alberta.

Planters are made mostly of very flammable peat moss, yet people often jam them full of cigarette butts, Lefebvre said. The resulting fire can smoulder for days before suddenly bursting alight to ignite vinyl siding, walls, and homes.

“Disposing of a cigarette into a potted plant is bad news,” Lefebvre said. He urged all smokers to get a proper fireproof receptacle in which to dispose of their cigarette butts.

Lefebvre said that Friday’s blaze was the first major structure fire of 2018.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.