Animals dead after pet store fire in Steinbach shopping center
Four businesses are now a smoldering heap of rubble and a number of animals are dead after a fire ripped through a strip mall in the town of Steinbach in southeastern Manitoba.
Emergency crews were called around 3:30 p.m. Sunday to the Main Street Mall, which houses a pet store, flooring store, paint store and tax office.
“There were animals – we were able to get a few out, but the majority of them perished,” Fire Chief Kelvin Toews said.
Steven Larson, director of Best West Pet Foods, said three reptiles were rescued before the fire escalated.
“They were able to save a few, not enough, but at the same time they did everything they could,” he said of the firefighters.
There were also 26 ponds full of fish, as well as cages containing birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice and rats which are all lost.
“It was heartbreaking, for sure. The pets that we had, we took very good care of them,” Larson said. “A lot of them had names, so it was just difficult.”
Larson said an employee called around 3:15 p.m. to tell her she smelled something burnt and was wondering what to do. So he started going there when he got another call saying there was smoke coming into the store.
Firefighters were already on the scene when Larson arrived and he was not allowed to enter the store.
“It was much more advanced at that time than I expected. But you can never expect a fire like the one we ended up in,” he said.
As for the rescued reptiles, “they all have vet checks later in the day that we have to take them to, but they all seem to be fine,” he said.
“You never know with smoke inhalation, animals have tiny lungs. They seem to be better today, compared to how they looked yesterday.”
The reptiles will be bred by Larson and an employee, but have also received “hundreds of offers” from people also offering space.
“It’s been really overwhelming, that’s for sure.”
Larson searches for a temporary location to reopen the store before a permanent location can be found.
“We love helping the community with all their pets, so we just want to come back.”
According to Toews, there was smoke inside one of the businesses when crews arrived, and they first entered to fight the fire, but it spread quickly and he had to order his teams to leave the building.
“Conditions changed significantly, and we had to pull them back and get defensive,” he said, adding that the fire had also started to grow, breaking through the roof.
“We eventually put out the fire, but not before the roof collapsed. The building will be a total loss.”
Air quality alert issued
A temporary air quality warning had to be issued for the city due to the nature of some of the materials in the fire.
“It’s a flooring store and a paint store in there. When it’s burning, there’s a lot of toxic smoke,” Toews said, noting there was still “wispy” smoke Monday. morning, but that the majority had dissipated.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, but an investigator is on scene, Toews said.
An excavator was brought in to lift some of the pancake layers from the collapse to reach the smoldering embers hidden in the rubble.
“So it’s still going to be a long process,” Toews said.