Winnipeg mother living in car with son advocates for rental insurance after apartment fire

A Winnipeg mother is urging anyone who doesn’t have tenant insurance to get it, because she’s now living in her car with her teenage son following a massive apartment fire on Friday night.

A fire in the four-storey Quail Ridge Apartment Homes in the city’s St. James area displaced up to 180 people, including the woman who only provided her first name, Natalie.

She says tenant insurance would have made a world of difference helping her cope with the trauma of the blaze.

“It’s so important. Even if you don’t have the money to afford it, you find the way to afford it. This stuff, you hear that it can happen and until it happens to you, then you know the importance of it,” she said.

“A lot of people got to go to hotels with their insurance. What do I have, me and my kid? We have our lives.”

fire fighters use a bucket and ladder to spray water on a burning building.
Winnipeg fire crews used a ladder truck to fight the fire that broke out Friday evening at the Quail Ridge Apartment Homes in St. James. (Submitted by Barry Bugara)

Natalie says the Red Cross offered her and her teenage son a short stay on mats at a community centre in the inner city.

“It’s shocking because now you understand what people actually have to go through and what resources are actually out there. It’s so limited and it just felt degrading,” Natalie said.

“A mat. I’ve been working since I was 16 years old and I was offered to sleep on a mat with my child. I chose to sleep in my car instead.”

Natalie, who lived on the second floor of the building, wonders if any of her belongings are salvageable.

“My heart goes out to the people on the fourth floor because there’s nothing left for them. There’s nothing. I’m hoping we only have a lot of water damage,” she said. 

“I just have to pick up and go on and move forward from here…. I don’t know where I’m going to go. I don’t know. I don’t know the path. I don’t know anything.”

Tenant insurance can be as little as $15 per month in Manitoba, but can cost more depending on the location of the apartment, the limits of insurance selected and choice of deductible.

Fellow tenant Kayla McKay, who lived in a top floor corner suite, had renter’s insurance and says it’s making a big difference.

“I don’t really have to buy myself any clothes. I can just wait a bit to be able to get myself a fresh new wardrobe and everything,” she said in an interview on Monday.

McKay is staying with family until she can find another place to live.

Still, she has suffered losses due to the fire.

A woman stands being interviewed by media and points at where she used to live.
Kayla McKay is one of an estimated 180 people who are now looking for new homes after their apartment block was heavily damaged in a fire on Friday evening. She luckily had renter’s insurance and says it will help her purchase a new wardrobe, as well as other belongings. (CBC)

Her two cats, Elvis and Smokey, were in the apartment at the time the fire broke out at about 7:30 p.m., and as of Monday evening, only Elvis had been rescued.

Elvis jumped out the top floor window and was found safe by neighbours earlier in the weekend.

“Just seeing him has brought some excitement back. It was nice just to hear his whine and his crying and everything and just being able to hold him,” McKay said.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service says they’ve only been able to search three quarters of the building for pets, because the fourth floor was not structurally safe for fire crews to enter, according to Erin Madden, a communications officer.

Several animals were rescued and reunited with their owners, including cats, dogs and birds, Madden said.

The Animal Services Agency is helping with care for the pets.

Anyone who sees another animal in or on the building is asked to not attempt to retrieve it, but instead call the WFPS non-emergency line at 204-986-6336.