International student killed, 3 others injured in Scarborough house fire
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, May 30, 2018 5:33AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 30, 2018 9:59PM EDT
An international student at the University of Toronto has died following a fire at a home in Scarborough’s Highland Creek neighbourhood early this morning.
The fire broke out at a single, detached house on Haida Court, near Morningside Avenue and Ellesmere Road, shortly before 2:30 a.m.
Firefighters were called to the area after receiving multiple calls about a structure fire and Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop said crews were met with heavy flames and smoke when they arrived on scene.
Three occupants, one female and two males, escaped the fire and were rushed to hospital for treatment.
A fourth occupant, identified by friends as 18-year-old Helen Guo, was later found dead on the second floor of the home.
“It was a significant fire, significant damage. We have structural instability at this time. That’s one of the reasons why we have to leave the deceased in the building at this point until we can make it safe for our crews to safely remove her,” he said.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
“Toronto Fire Service investigators are on scene right now. They have commenced an investigation into the origin, cause, and circumstances of this fire,” Jessop said.
The Office of the Fire Marshal has also been notified.
“We will be working with the OFM and Toronto police certainly over the next day or two as the investigation proceeds,” Jessop added.
The two males injured in the fire have been released from hospital. One of the males suffered a broken ankle after jumping out of a second-floor window, Jessop said.
The female who was hospitalized is still receiving treatment at a Toronto trauma centre.
University of Toronto spokesperson Michael Kurts confirmed that all four of the occupants of the home were international students from China who attend U of T's Scarborough campus. They are believed to be around the same age as the deceased, he said.
“This is obviously a terrible tragedy and the thoughts of the entire campus community are with the students who are affected and the family members,” Kurts said at the scene.
“Right now our focus has been on reaching out, and we have already done this, to the students to offer any assistance that they might require. We’ll continue to be in touch with those students to ensure that they get the support that they need.”
He added that the university is continuing to provide emergency officials with any information and assistance they require.
Witness Salma Shariff said that when her boyfriend learned that one of the victims was stuck in her room inside the burning home, he went to help break a window to get her out.
"She was burned, she was in pain, shocked," Shariff's boyfriend Loick Masunda said. "I tried to calm her down and just brought her to the paramedics."
'We need to know what happened,' fire chief says
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg offered “heartfelt condolences” to the family of the victim and those impacted by the fire.
“This breaks my heart to see this,” Pegg said. “This is a very deep tragedy and we need to know what happened.”
Pegg said it is too early to tell where the fire started in the home and could not comment on whether there were working smoke detectors.
“We won’t know the status of anything to do with smoke alarms or building conditions until the investigation is complete,” he said.
Pegg estimated that Toronto Fire officials will likely be on scene for the next couple of days.
“There is an extraordinary amount of damage to this building,” the fire chief said.
“We have a lot of concerns around structural stability.”
He added that heavy equipment may be required to remove debris.
In the meantime, Toronto Fire and Ontario Fire Marshal engineers are working to determine the classification of the home and whether or not it was operating as a rooming house.
According to the City of Toronto, a rooming house is defined as a “building lived in by more than three unrelated persons, operated for remuneration/financial gain and providing shared accommodation, without exclusive use of sanitary and kitchen facilities for more than three unrelated persons.”
Under the Ontario Fire Code, a building is considered a rooming home when it houses four or more unrelated individuals.
“I want to be very, very clear and direct – I am not suggesting nor is anyone suggesting that this is a rooming house at this point. That will be determined as part of the investigation,” Jessop said.
“We are still going on information that has been reported to us. All we know was that there were four individuals, all students, living in there when the fire broke out.”
Jessop told CP24 that City of Toronto and Toronto Fire inspectors have since canvassed other homes in the neighbourhood and found at least one in violation of the Ontario Fire Code.
He said the home, also on Haida Court, will be charged provincially and an “immediate threat to life notice” will be posted. The notice orders the removal of the occupants from four rooms in the basement of the home due to the absence of a second fire escape.