Winnipeg teen fled hockey tournament after learning apartment was ablaze, dog stuck inside

A Winnipeg teen was playing in the Manito Ahbee hockey championship on Friday when he learned that his apartment block was engulfed in flames with his dog trapped inside.

Kayden Buffalo, 17, is a Grade 12 student at John Taylor Collegiate and is set to graduate next month. His high school team won their championship this year and he played for the Northern Cree team at the Manito Ahbee Cup over the weekend.

He and his mom lived on the top floor of one of four complexes at Quail Ridge Apartment Homes in the Winnipeg’s St. James area. A fire began two doors down from their apartment on the fourth floor around 7:30 p.m. on Friday, spreading rapidly.

“It was just really scary because my dog was home, and that’s all I really cared about,” he told CBC News.

A friend texted Buffalo about the fire. He rushed home from the hockey tournament, telling a firefighter that his dog was trapped in his mom’s room when he got there.

“After waiting for about 20 or 30 minutes, I was just getting to the point where I was super doubtful. I was super scared.”

He said firefighters then began to carry out a few dogs from the burning apartment. One of them was Buffalo’s pet, Obi. The dog survived by standing underneath a sprinkler, firefighters told Buffalo.

“It was probably one of the best moments of my life, knowing that he was OK and that he made it out safely.”

A burning, four-storey apartment is pictured.
Buffalo said a firefighter told him that the blaze was connected to a barbecue that exploded on the fourth floor, just two doors down from him and his mom’s apartment. (Submitted by Kayden Buffalo)

About 180 people have been displaced by the fire. The Red Cross and the city’s Emergency Social Services team provided help to 15 residents, and the rest made their own arrangements for accommodations, the city said on Saturday.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service spokesperson Erin Madden said in a Saturday email. The fire department expects the building to be a total loss due to smoke, fire and heavy water damage.

Buffalo said a firefighter told him that the blaze was connected to a barbecue that exploded on the fourth floor. He and his mom did not have renter’s insurance.

“The first thing I thought of was my grad suit that I just got. My MVP trophy I got from the league is probably gone.”

A teen boy is pictured holding a championship trophy with his parents.
Buffalo is pictured with his parents. His hockey team at John Taylor Collegiate won their championship this year, and he played for the Northern Cree team at the Manito Ahbee Cup over the weekend. (Submitted by Kayden Buffalo)

Friends and family have been fundraising for Buffalo and his mom, and the Manito Ahbee Cup is also collecting donations.

“Kayden is graduating from high school in a few weeks,” the league wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday. “Let’s help Kayden and his mother out.”

The two have been staying with friends since the Friday night fire, he said. “It just really makes it a lot easier, knowing that we have people that are supporting us and people that care for us.”

Buffalo’s dog, Obi, was one of several animals rescued by firefighters from the apartment. While it’s likely that he and his mom lost everything in the fire, Buffalo is relieved to still have his canine companion.

“Everything is replaceable, but my dog isn’t.”

Community fundraising for tenants

Diana Hildebrand, who lives in a neighbouring apartment complex on Quail Ridge Road, has organized a donation drive for those displaced by the fire.

Individuals and businesses have all stepped up. Donations range from clothing and children’s items to toiletries and pet supplies. The gifts are filling a common room in Hildebrand’s building.

Dreamland Diner on Portage Avenue in the St. James area also began taking donations almost immediately after manager Beau Friesen pitched the idea to the owners.

The Dreamland donation drive will tentatively go on until Father’s Day. The restaurant at Portage and Thompson Drive is open 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

There were no reported injuries among the residents but one firefighter went to hospital in stable condition. Many residents did not have renter’s insurance, according to Buffalo.

“For people who don’t have the care and support that we have, I just feel really bad,” he said.

“I think pretty much everyone who’s in that building is just really having a tough time right now.”

CBC News has requested a comment from the building’s owners, Weidner Apartment Homes, but has not heard back.