A western St. Catharines winery famous for its wines and a site of many celebrations among the newlyweds is in ruins after flames swept through the scenic spot late Saturday night.
Fire crews worked into the morning to put out the large structure fire at Hernder Estate Wines late Saturday evening.
St. Catharines Fire and Emergency Services said they were called to the Louth Eighth Avenue fire at 10:02 p.m.
Fire Chief Dave Upper said the front portion of the facility, which housed the Hernder Estate Wines store and banquet hall, had “heavy fire involvement” when crews arrived on the scene.
He collapsed shortly after.
Along the way, Upper said St. Catharines activated mutual aid — an agreement between emergency responders to lend each other assistance across jurisdictional lines — with crews from Niagara Falls, Thorold, Pelham, Lincoln , West Lincoln and Niagara-on-the-Lake lend assistance.
“In the rural area we know we have water supply issues and we knew with the amount of thick black smoke and fire we could see in the distance we had a big fire,” Upper said. .
With limited water availability, crews drew water from the pond in front of the winery and “set up tank shuttles.”
“We had three elevated water towers, just huge water guns…and they pump out 3,800 liters per minute,” he said. “Just a ridiculous amount of water.”
The fire was mainly due to the wind, blowing at 50 km/h from the west, with gusts of up to 65 to 70 km/h. Upper credited the “incredible work” of crews in stopping the fire from spreading beyond the main facility.
“They made a really amazing save on this building,” he said. “They were able to cut it, saving the warehouse and the production facility.”
Upper said there was a house on the west side teams had to “make sure they weren’t involved”.
Niagara Regional Police Const. Philip Gavin said St. Catharines uniformed officers responded to the fire with emergency personnel.
Officers closed a number of streets in the area, due to the scale of the fire and the number of firefighters at the scene.
Gavin said four employees were inside the building when the fire broke out. All were safely evacuated, one of whom was taken to hospital by Niagara Emergency Medical Services for “what is believed to be a minor case of smoke inhalation”.
The Department of Labor has been notified.
Between Mutual Aid and the St. Catharines Fire Department, Upper said 21 pieces of equipment were used “at the height of the event,” with 45 firefighters on the scene. Furloughed personnel were also activated to outfit additional vehicles and provide coverage for the rest of the city.
The Hamilton Fire Department was on alert for a fire in Niagara West, but Upper said the service was not needed.
Firefighters will remain at the scene Sunday, clearing hot spots and dismantling sections of the collapsed facility.
No firefighters were injured.
The Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal was notified but would not be present due to “extensive fire damage and collapse”, Upper said.
St. Catharines will have the fire prevention investigated, but at this time “we don’t have a cause and we have no idea of the extent of the damage.”
Hernder Estate Wines is one of the largest family-owned wineries in Canada, having opened its doors to the public in 1993. With 200 hectares of land between St. Catharines and Beamsville, the St. Catharines winery produces more than 25 varieties of VQA wines.
It has become a popular “wedding cellar” with over 125 receptions held each year.
Upper said the Hernder family was at the scene all night.
“It’s so sad to lose an incredible building like this and our hearts go out to the Hernder family and their staff,” he said.
St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik expressed his thanks to the Niagara Fire Department for their efforts and support of the St. Catharines Winery, writing on Twitter:
“Thoughts are with the Hernder family today as a fire ripped through the iconic St. Catharines winery overnight.”
Municipal County of St. Catharines Lori Littleton also shared her thoughts on social media, writing, “This is a devastating loss to our community. I got married there with countless others. My thoughts are with the Hernder family.
The cellar hosted the Mom Market Collective craft fair this weekend, initially scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
On its website, the collective issued a statement: “We are absolutely devastated by the fire at Hernder Estate Wineries (sic). Our hearts and prayers go out to both the Hernder family as well as many of our vendors who lost their livelihoods in this tragic event.
A GoFundMe The page was created on Sunday to raise funds for the 34 sellers.
Police said when the scene is deemed safe, an investigation will begin and officers will assist the St. Catharines Fire Department if needed.
Police maintain a presence at the scene, with members of the public being asked to stay out of the area to minimize traffic.