Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stories Con't

KINDERSLEY — The town of Kindersley was gripped by a state of emergency Friday, as a 55-year-old arena burned to the ground and firefighters worked to save the attached rink/curling club complex.

The blaze sent smoke pouring into the curling rink, which is housed in the West Central Events Centre, and forced the hasty evacuation of the SaskPower Scotties women’s provincial curling championship. The day’s first draw started just a few minutes before the alarm sounded.

It’s too early to tell whether the arena and curling club can re-open this winter.

More than 60 volunteer firefighters from Kindersley, Kerrobert, Rosetown, Eston, Eatonia, Acadia Valley and Oyen, Alta., plus Pincemin Fire and Safety, converged to battle the blaze, which broke out on the north end of Exhibition Stadium and spread quickly. There were no serious injuries.

“There’s no doubt this is a very devastating event for the community,” said Sherry Magnuson, the town’s chief administrative officer. “Arenas are the lifeblood of the community in the winter, ours particularly. This is a very strong hockey community, skating and curling, so, yes, it is devastating. It’s a shock.”

Exhibition Stadium, which was built in 1955 and housed storage areas, a skating rink and the fitness and weight room for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Kindersley Klippers, was levelled 40 minutes after the fire started. The lobby connecting the stadium to the adjoining arena/curling complex, which was built in 1992, was also destroyed.

The levelled stadium included the office of the local minor sports association, which administers local hockey, figure skating and ball programs in town.

“All our equipment rooms, all the kids’ sweaters, the skating club’s figure skates were all in there,” president Brenda Walde said while watching the fire consume the last of the structure.

“This is the gathering place — lots of history and lots of memories. But you know what? I have no doubt this community will get together and make this right, quickly. They’ll do it for the kids, they’ll do it for the teams, they’ll do it for the community.”

The newer arena, where the Klippers play and keep their offices, sustained smoke and water damage, as did the curling club. Neighbouring vehicles and houses also sustained damage, and homes and schools were evacuated because of ammonia concerns.

There’s no estimate yet on the cost of the fire. RCMP Staff Sgt. Wally Lynds said there was minor maintenance work going on in the arena at the time, and he’s “fairly certain it was accidental.”

Police continue to investigate.

Fire Chief Ron Hope said a structural assessment must be carried out on the fire wall between the old and new parts of the complex and said he has “very high hopes” the newer structure will remain standing.

He said the quick response from neighbouring towns helped to keep a bad situation from becoming much worse.

“Some of them would be close to an hour away,” he said. “But you call in what you need to deal with the situation and I can’t thank those departments enough for what they did. Without their co-operation, without their help, we’d be sitting in a different (situation) than we are right now.”

Thick, dark smoke could be seen all over town and curious onlookers watched the building burn from across the street before getting evacuated.

Two fire alarms had sounded in the arena the previous day, but Hope said those were caused by steam and were unrelated to Friday’s fire.

The initial emergency call came in at 9:58 a.m. By 10:15 a.m., the fire department was on scene, the facility was evacuated and RCMP were on site. A state of emergency was declared at 10:30 a.m.

“We’re very fortunate to have saved one structure considering the other one is 50 years old,” said Tom Geiger, Kindersley’s deputy mayor. “We’ve seen it in other communities — once it starts, it’s really tough to contain it.”

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary since Kindersley was incorporated as a village. A ceremony was planned for the complex on Sunday, but that will now be moved elsewhere.

“I think it’s important we go ahead with it,” Magnuson said. “It’s an important milestone for the town and to launch off into the next 100 years — particularly so now, with what’s happened today with this tragic event.”

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