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Fire destroys clubhouse of PGA-level golf course southeast of Edmonton

Large clouds of smoke billowed from the clubhouse of a distinguished golf course southeast of Edmonton as it burned down early Saturday morning.

Strathcona County, Alta., firefighters spent hours getting the flames under control at the Northern Bear Golf Course clubhouse. Crews were impeded by the extreme cold and its effect on pump ports and water lines, according to Dana Terry, deputy chief of operations for the county’s emergency services department.

“It moved so fast. It was crazy,” said Alison Rayner, a resident of the area, who witnessed the fire on her way home from an event.

Northern Bear is a pro-level golf course: last year, management signed a deal with the Canadian Tour — part of the PGA Tour — to host the ATB Classic through 2025. This year’s tournament is slated for June 27-30.

Fire crews responded to fire alarms at the golf course shortly after 3 a.m. MT, Terry said in an email to CBC News.

When firefighters arrived, the southeast side of the clubhouse was on fire and flames were coming out of its roof, he said. But soon the clubhouse was “fully involved” and firefighters were “fighting a defensive fire in very difficult fire conditions.”

The province of Alberta has been under an extreme cold warning for several days as a polar vortex slowly passes through western Canada. Edmonton experienced record cold temperatures Friday, but Environment Canada forecasted frostier conditions over the weekend.

Temperatures in the Edmonton area were expected to settle around –40 C to –50 C, with brutal wind chills making it feel near –55, according to the national weather agency’s warning.

Rayner had finished working a shift at a casino for her son’s school early Saturday morning when she discovered smoke — enough to signal it wasn’t from home heating, she said.

Shortly before 4:30 a.m., she drove past the course’s entrance and saw the fire, she said. Rayner pulled into her neighbourhood to park her truck, then ran up a short hill on the golf course to watch the scene unfurl.

Large clouds of smoke and bright flames stem from a burning golf clubhouse in the middle of the night. Emergency lights flash from three fire trucks parked in front of the building. Tire tracks fill the snow-covered ground in the foreground.
The extreme cold gripping Alberta created challenges for firefighters in Strathcona County, Alta., Saturday morning, a spokesperson said. (Submitted by Alison Rayner)

Emergency crews were on scene and soon, half the clubhouse was aflame, Rayner said. She could hear small explosive pops and windows shatter.

Rayner returned home when she could no longer bear the cold and woke her family — although she doubted their home was in danger by that point.

On scene, the cold had frozen pump ports and lines, Terry said, and there were water supply challenges that forced emergency crews to use five tankers to shuttle water to firefighters.

Three firefighting squads total responded to the scene, he said. Fresh firefighters took over from the night crew after the Saturday morning shift change.

Fire prevention investigators were part of the response, too, he said. They are examining the scene to determine what caused the fire.

The burned remnants of a building stand in fresh snow, under a clear blue sky, as smoke floats from the scene.
The remains of the Northern Bear Golf Course clubhouse were still smoking Saturday afternoon after the structure caught fire earlier that morning. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

No injuries were reported, he said.

Rayner, whose property neighbours the course’s sixth hole, expects Saturday’s fire will impact many people in the community, she said.

“We live relatively remotely from the city and stuff like this, when it happens near you, it feels really personal,” she said.

Rayner loved the clubhouse’s architecture and has fond memories there from attending events, including her husband’s latest birthday in June, she said.

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