Enoch Sales House fire ‘totally avoidable’ says Calgary city councillor

CMLC president Michael Brown expressed regret for the loss and said the building had been inspected two days before the weekend fire

Historic Enoch Sales House, which was slated for preservation, burned down on Saturday. COURTESY WENDY LEES

The head of Calgary’s Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) expressed his regret to Calgary City Council Monday morning for the loss of historic Enoch Sales House to fire on Saturday.

The historic building owned by CMLC – which had committed to preserving or restoring the home in some way – was destroyed by a fire on Saturday morning.

“What I regret is that we did run out of time,” said Michael Brown, president and CEO of CMLC. “In fairness to Coun. (Evan) Woolley, he’s always articulated to me that his greatest fear is that this building would burn down.”

According to Brown, the fire was likely caused after someone entered the building and started a fire, probably to keep warm in plunging temperatures.

Woolley asked Brown why the building wasn’t better secured.

“We know how to do this and we failed to do it at this site and frankly put some people at risk,” said the Ward 8 councillor.

Brown told council that the building was inspected weekly, and staff had done a walk around the building as late as Thursday to ensure nobody could easily enter.

He said doors and windows were secured with screws, not nails, in order to make them more difficult to pry away.

“We did a walk-through to ensure any kind of materials that could be used for fire were removed,” he said.

Despite those efforts, Calgary Fire Department reported to Brown that they had seen a opening on the left side of the building, which they believe was used by someone to enter the house.

Brown took the chance to respond to criticism that what remained of the building after the fire had been extinguished was quickly knocked down, preventing any last chance of restoration.

“In order for us to ensure there was no loss of life and to make it safe for the Calgary Fire Department to actually go into the building, they had to actually go into the building and start pulling pieces away so they could work through that on the weekend,” he said.

Brown also responded to criticism that the fence around the building was not robust enough.

He said no fence is perfect, and people who really want to get into a building will get in.

“We needed to ensure that if there was something that took place that was not great within the building, both police and fire could get into it in a quick way, and that’s where the fence would almost become an obstacle.”

According to Brown, the price tag to relocate and restore the building was pegged at $3 million, but there was also a plan to dismantle it and build a replica for $1.9 million.

“When we purchased that building in 2017, we did it with eyes wide open and with the intent we were going to save it,” he said. “It was never our intent to create this scenario.”

Woolley said he would be asking for an item of urgent business at Monday’s regular council meeting to discuss strategies to ensure the city’s other heritage assets do not meet a similar fate.

He said other cities have programs that encourage private business owners to maintain heritage assets.

“Our history is not long, but it’s deep, and these building are incredibly important for us to reflect in the future,” said Woolley.

“It’s totally avoidable and really really embarrassing when these things keep popping up, and they will continue to pop up unless we make a decision as a council to allow for others to do that for us.”

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