“I was so terrified when I seen it (sic). Because I knew it was going to be very bad. Because you can’t have that much smoke in a home and not have people die.”
Victor Cameron woke up in the middle of the night to lights and sirens and stepped outside to see smoke billowing from a rooming house on Austin Street North.
Two men were killed. Others were injured. Police say there were at least 15 people inside when the fire broke out.
Neighbourhood residents tell 680 CJOB the home was a well-known drug house – the neighbourhood “crack shack”.
North Point Douglas Residents Association Chair Sel Burrows says he was just speaking to police about the home the day before the fire.
“Community Support Unit police officers were in my kitchen yesterday discussing issues in Point Douglas and this address was one. We were discussing the problem of trying to identify which suite the drug dealer that was living in there was living in,” he said.
Burrows says when they know the landlord of a problem house, they will call them and alert them about a problem tenant. He says typically, that solves the problem.
“Unfortunately we didn’t know the landlord of this place and I’m feeling a little guilty I didn’t work harder to find him,” he said.
Burrows says Austin Street used to be one of the worst streets in all of Winnipeg, but has recently been cleaned up. This was one of the only difficult houses remaining.
Just down the street, a rooming house fire killed five people in 2011. Lulonda Flett was sentenced to life in prison for setting that fire.
Councillors Want More Inspections For Rooming Houses
Two city councillors are pushing for more inspections to rooming houses like the one on Austin Street.
Ross Eadie and Janice Lukes say the city should be checking the houses annually – no matter what. Right now, the system is entirely complaint-based.
Burrows says Winnipeg has a very good Neighbourhood Liveability Bylaw, but because people living in rooming houses are the second-most vulnerable group in the city, behind the homeless, they don’t often make a complaint.
“It’s really hard to get people in rooming houses to let you know what the problems are,” he said.
The motion will go before the city’s Protection Committee on Monday.
Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Chief John Lane says this nine-room rooming house was registered and legal. He says it had been inspected regularly and was in compliance with fire protection regulations.
He couldn’t say whether or not the fire alarms were working.