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'We had no choice': Chief says large flames prevented crews from accessing unit in deadly fire
TORONTO -- Toronto’s fire chief said that an “unfortunate reality” in circumstances prevented crews from getting into the unit where a person was found dead following a five-alarm blaze at a North York apartment.
Speaking to CP24 four days after the fire ripped through the 15-storey building, Matthew Pegg said that the strength of the flames and the smoke provided challenges for crews.
“The unfortunate reality in this circumstance is the conditions that presented themselves in the suite that we saw simply prevented even our crews from being able to enter. We had no choice. They literally had to fight their way into that suite and suppress the fire before we could even get in.”
Emergency crews were called to the Gosford Boulevard apartment building, located near Jane Street and Steeles Avenue, around 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 15. Pegg said that six people had to be extracted from the burning building and one had to be transported to the hospital for treatment.
A few hours later, around 1 a.m., firefighters found a body on an eight floor balcony. Officials with the Office of the Fire Marshall said on Monday that the cause of death was smoke inhalation.
On Sunday, CTV News Toronto obtained a video showing what appears to be a person trapped on an eight-floor balcony as the fire raged around them. People can be heard in the video calling out to the person, encouraging them to jump.
Pegg called the video “graphic” and said that it has been handed over to investigators. Investigators have not confirmed whether the victim of the fire was the same person seen on the video.
“The video gives a really clear depiction as to what the conditions were as our crews were arriving,” he said.
“The conditions that were there that were present, the fastest and safest and most and most efficient and effective means anywhere in that building were to put people inside and go get them. To try to do it from outside requires us to fundamentally change tactics and it actually would take people away from being in the fastest and most efficient to help.”
Ontario Fire Marshal investigator Rick Derstroff said that officials are “excavating the unit of origin” to try and determine the cause of the fire.
“That’s a significant job to do all of that, to go through all the debris and everything in there, there’s significant fire damage so it’s a long and slow process,” he said. “We are looking at the bedrooms as a possible area of origin for sure but we are not excluding any other area. We are looking at the entire unit itself.”
Derstroff said there is “no specific timeline” for when displaced residents can return to their homes.
About 700 people have had to leave their homes until officials determine the building is safe to return to. In partnership with the Red Cross, the city of Toronto has opened the Driftwood Community Centre to provide shelter to residents. About 70 people were transported to York University’s Tait McKanzie Centre over the weekend for temporary housing.
According to city officials, it may take at least a few weeks for some of the residents to be able to return to their units.
“It is not going to be an overnight event,” said Charles Jansen, the director of emergency management with the City of Toronto. “We need to make sure the building is safe, the fire systems are all operational, and there is no concern of any electrical issues in all the building.”
Jansen said that all residents should register with the Red Cross at York University in order to access short-term and long-term services that may be available. He also said that residents may be able to get back into their units as early as Tuesday to retrieve critical items such as clothing, documents or medication.