More than 1,000 residents displaced after fire at St. James Town highrise
Joshua Freeman and Kayla Goodfield, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, August 21, 2018 1:38PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 21, 2018 10:47PM EDT
Following a six-alarm fire at a highrise in the St. James Town area on Tuesday afternoon, more than 1,000 residents have been displaced from their homes.
On Tuesday night, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg issued an immediate threat to life notice saying all residents had to be evacuated immediately.
Speaking at the Wellesley Community Centre, Pegg said the fire has been extinguished and the area is completely clear of smoke.
“There has been significant damage to the building and specifically it appears that there has been significant damage to a number of systems within the building – there is no hydro whatsoever in the building, it’s been disconnected so of course there are no services,” he said. “There are no lights, there are no fire protection services and there is no elevator service.”
Mayor John Tory said all residents affected by this blaze will be provided with shelter.
“All of the people who were asked to stay in their suites during the time when the fire was being put out – some of whom are still there – will now be taken out of the building in an orderly fashion by the fire service and they’ll likely be brought here unless they have some other place they can go with relatives or friends,” Tory said while speaking alongside Pegg.
After arriving at the community centre, some residents said they are hearing misinformation as to when they will be able to return to their homes.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of things like it might take on or two days or a week so I don’t know who to believe,” Edwin Isla said. “I hope it’s just for tonight but if it lasts up to a week then I don’t know.”
“I do have family here to stay with but a lot of people here don’t have family to stay with.”
Another resident, who said his family is out of town currently, said he does not know where he is going to go for the time being.
“I thought it was just going to be four or five hours but now I am hearing that it will be four or five days or even longer,” Anisul Hoque said.
Tory said it will likely be several days until all the necessary repairs are made to the building.
The city is urging anyone with available accommodations for displaced residents to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
“We are looking for people to offer hotel rooms that are available, we prefer they be donated because we are dealing here with a community emergency and we need to have housing for people,” he said. “We are asking people with Airbnb units that they may be able put up to house some of these people.”
Fire crews were initially called to the building on Parliament Street, near St. James Avenue, at around 12:50 p.m.
At the time, firefighters arrived to find heavy black smoke emanating from an electrical box in the basement and migrating throughout the building.
Toronto Fire said one person from the 14th floor was being treated for unknown injuries. However Pegg said no serious injuries have been reported so far.
“There are a number of residents that are in the building – we’re looking after all of them,” Pegg said.
While dozens of residents were standing outside the building, Pegg said firefighters were telling many residents inside to “protect in place” at the time.
“We have very, very heavy smoke on two different floors. The operations are being complicated because of the extent of the fire,” Pegg said. “There are some hydro and electrical challenges in the building. So we’re in the process of shutting down all of the power to the building.”
Pegg said that means the elevators are out of commission, so firefighters have to physically walk up to the affected levels.
“We’ve upgraded to an additional alarm. That brings approximately another six trucks and their crews and just allows us to keep our people rehabilitated. There are two challenges. One is keeping them hydrated and two is controlling their core temperature.”
He added that it’s “extremely demanding” for firefighters to climb 15 flights of stairs with 75 to 100 pounds of gear on their backs.
More than 100 firefighters were on scene working to fight the fire.
The eighth and 15th floors were the most affected by the smoke, according to Pegg.
Pegg said that Toronto Fire will provide a process for residents to go back into the building to gather necessities once it is safe to do so.