STEVE CHINBURG/FOR THE BRANDON SUN
Onlookers watch as flames engulf the True Value Hardware in Virden on Sunday.
VIRDEN — Photo albums and other family heirlooms were scattered across Doreen Alexander’s lawn on Monday, as family members tried to salvage what they could.
Clothes can be seen hanging in the closet of one of the four residences that went up in flames early Sunday in Virden. The fire also destroyed the True Value Hardware store. (JILLIAN AUSTIN/BRANDON SUN)
Photo albums and other items were able to be salvaged from Doreen Alexander’s burned-out residence in Virden following an early morning fire on Sunday. Her daughter, Lori Alexander, pictured here was one of several family members helping out on Monday. (JILLIAN AUSTIN/BRANDON SUN)
Alexander’s home is part of the seniors fourplex that went up in flames early Sunday morning.
"It’s a heartbreak," Alexander said. "We just have to make the best of it. That’s how I look at it."
Alexander, who will turn 81 on Thursday, had been living in the residence since last April.
A fire broke out around 3:30 a.m. at the True Value Hardware store, which then engulfed the neighbouring fourplex.
"I heard the sirens about 4 (a.m.)," Alexander said. "I never even thought much about it, because you hear sirens so much."
She soon realized that something was wrong and quickly made her way outside.
"I didn’t take hardly anything, I thought, ‘Just get out,’" Alexander said. "I didn’t take my purse or anything."
Once outside, she saw the hardware store engulfed in flames, before spreading to the fourplex.
"It was sparks, just like fireworks," she said. "It was terrible."
All five residents of the fourplex managed to escape safely. Alexander is grateful no one was hurt in the blaze.
"It could’ve been worse," she said. Alexander was able to salvage some items from inside, as it wasn’t burned as badly as the other units.
But now her thoughts are turning to finding a new place to live.
"It’s a letdown because I don’t know what I’m going to do, because there’s no housing," she said.
Alexander and the other residents are staying with family members in the meantime.
Fire Chief Brad Yochim with the Wallace District Fire Department expects the damage estimate to be "in the millions."
Yochim said the fire is still considered suspicious. There were two separate fires at the same time. A fire behind the Bargain Store was put out quickly.
"Having the two fires at the same time a block way from each other is a red flag," he said. "That right there tells us that it could have been intentionally set and if it was it is really too bad. Hopefully they can solve it and we can find out what happened, but it’ll take a while."
The fire is one of the biggest in recent years, Yochim said.
"We’ve had big fires before, but in the Town of Virden, this is probably the largest one," he said.
Thirty-five firefighters from Virden, Elkhorn and Oak Lake departments battled the blaze.
"It was a joint effort. We managed to save a lot, but we did lose a lot," he said. "We knew right off the bat we were probably going to lose the hardware store, so we concentrated our efforts on the residential fourplex, and tried to save as much of that as we could."
True Value Hardware was destroyed, as was the fourplex. The neighbouring government building sustained some interior damage.
RCMP, along with the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner, continue to investigate.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 11, 2012