Fire’s damage dismays residents
Tearful fire victims return home to assess their losses, retrieve belongings — and put out milk for missing cat
Iver Pinkett shook his head in disbelief. Some of his neighbours simply cried. Residents in a tight-knit neighbourhood near Dupont and Dundas Sts. stood outside a cordonedoff row of burned homes yesterday surveying the damage to the 80year-old houses. They spent a cold afternoon trying to salvage what little was left in them. Investigators sifted through the charred remains of one gutted home on Franklin Ave., where the fire is believed to have started. Engineers and investigators were trying to determine what caused the fire in the first-floor bedroom of that house, said Jim Fisher, an Ontario Fire Marshal supervisor. “The investigation is still going on,” he said at the scene yesterday. “We can’t confirm how it began yet.” They are also trying to determine why the smoke alarm in the house didn’t go off, he said. Residents said alarms in adjacent houses, however, could be heard long after the fire had been extinguished. With their homes fenced off, the displaced residents spent the day looking for other accommodations, dealing with insurance agents, talking to police and fire investigators and finding clean clothes. Most were allowed into their homes to retrieve personal items. They came out carrying clothes, cherished items and framed photographs, all tainted with the smell of smoke. Pinkett looked weary as he stood outside his house, watching his wife place cat food on their porch for her cat, Fluffy, who went missing after the fire started Saturday morning.
“We’re not recovering, we’re still in shock,” said Pinkett, who had spent the night at his daughter’s apartment nearby. When he entered his house in the afternoon, escorted by a firefighter, he was relieved to find it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. “The beds are trashed, the clothes are all trashed, and even the computer melted,” he said. “But we were able to salvage a lot,” said Pinkett, a general contractor, who expects he will have to rent an apartment or house. John Grant of Niagara drove down after he heard his daughter Sara’s house was among those damaged by the fire. Sara, in California on vacation, was to return this evening. The fire destroyed the attic and upper floor, he said. But he retrieved stacks of photo albums.
“You can buy a watch or a ring,” said Grant. “We really just wanted to get to the things you can’t buy.” One photo, of his daughter sitting on his shoulders years ago, couldn’t be found. “I’m sure it’s there somewhere, I just couldn’t find it,” he said, with tears in his eyes. Neighbours said the fire began after a senior resident placed a heater near her bed, which then caught fire. “The fire came up and burned her face and her hair,” said one. By the time the woman got out of her house, the flames had reached the homes’ shared attic and spread in both directions, said neighbour Frank Debonis, who helped the woman into an ambulance. Debonis had been leaving his parents’ home Saturday around 9 a.m. when he saw the fire. The home was spared from the flames, but smoke and water damage forced his parents out Saturday night. “They bought this house 43 years ago, and have worked their whole lives to keep it,” Debonis said. It took about 100 firefighters to contain the blaze. They doused the houses with water for two hours, causing flooding in addition to structural damage from the fire. A firewall separating the attics could have slowed down or even stopped the fire from travelling as fast as it did, said Capt. Mark Strapko, with Toronto Fire Service. “That’s the thing with these older townhouses — if one goes, then the rest of them go.” That’s why the fire department has been pushing for the province to pass sprinkler legislation, he said, noting Ontario is “lagging behind for some reason.” Evidence from cities such as Vancouver, where residential fire sprinklers have been required for more than 15 years, indicates their effectiveness, said Strapko. “During this time there has not been a single accidental fire-related fatality where a properly installed and functioning sprinkler was working.” It was unclear what will now happen to the homes. “It’s between the owners and insurance companies to decide to tear the homes down,” he said. City officials cordoned off the area with orange fencing, but there was little information about what the homes’ fate would be.