Crews contend with extreme cold to battle overnight fire in Wetaskiwin

Firefighters contended with extreme cold Tuesday night to battle a major fire that destroyed an old motel in Wetaskiwin.

The property, known as Manny's Motel, is used for low-income housing and a shelter, police said.

The fire started shortly before midnight, a spokesperson with Wetaskiwin Fire Services told CBC News. 

Firefighters remained on scene for hours as the temperature hovered around –35 C, with windchill of –50.

In videos of the scene, black smoke could be seen billowing from the two-storey structure near the corner of 40th Avenue and 54th Street. A pair of firefighters could be seen on the roof. 

Police officers on patrol in the area first spotted smoke coming from the building, RCMP said in a news release.

"RCMP members entered the building to alert numerous residents and evacuate the building," RCMP said in a news release.

"Wetaskiwin and Millet fire departments responded but the building was quickly consumed by flames." 

There were no reports of injuries, RCMP said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation by RCMP and fire officials. Anyone with information is asked to contact police. 

Crews were expected to remain on scene throughout Wednesday afternoon, and drivers are asked to avoid the area. 

Patricia Broatch who lives in an apartment directly behind the building, said the motel has not been operating for some time. But a small convenience store continues to operate out of the property. 

"My husband got up at midnight, saw the fire," she said. "This would have been just after midnight.

"I think they evacuated the people that were in there, as we saw them putting people into cars." 

Hours after the fire, Wetaskiwin's emergency shelter put out a call on its Facebook page for volunteers and increased donations. The sudden loss of housing units will put added pressure on their operations, the agency said.

"Due to extreme low temperatures, our numbers have been going up. Now Manny's burning has brought another 20-plus people. We are giving shelter to 40-plus people a night.

"We need more volunteers and more food." 

Wetaskiwin is about 70 kilometres south of Edmonton.