Saturday , September 26 2020

North York residents face uncertain future as high-level blaze leaves one dead, hundreds displaced


911 calls came shortly after firefighters worked through the flames and heavy smoke to rescue tenants and stop the blaze in upstate North York. At first, there was official relief for which everyone was accommodated and no one was seriously injured. But after initial investigations began early Saturday, one person was found dead on the eighth-floor balcony.

"It's tragic. It's real. It breaks my heart, "said Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Peggy. "But as I said last night, to the best of my knowledge and the knowledge of us all on the ground, we didn't believe that was the circumstance."

Standing in front of 235 Blvd. Gosford, a 16-storey building near Janein Street and Alex Alex West, Peg explained that live updates come with the understanding that information can change. At no point on Friday, firefighters did not report anyone missing, he said. He expressed his condolences to "all those affected by the tragic loss".

Hundreds of residents have been displaced since the blaze. York University has withdrawn to offer emergency shelter since Sunday, but officials are not sure when residents will be allowed to return to their homes, leaving many families in limbo.

Peg said Friday's blaze is a difficult and complex situation for the 100 firefighters involved. The search for passengers began immediately and "never stopped", he said, as "a remarkable" 911 call was filtered to the command station and crews were moving from door to door. Six residents were rescued and treated, with one being taken to hospital in stable condition.

The circumstances of Friday's fire were such that the "safest, most efficient and most effective" option was to deploy firefighters inside, he said. Due to the heavy flames in Unit 808 – where the blaze started – teams could not enter that apartment and the neighboring "primary search" units. It was not clear whether the person found on the balcony of that unit called 911. Peg does not believe the teams have "specific information" about the person there.

The victim's identity has not been released, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Police Inspection in Toronto. Im Gottel said there was no reason to believe that death meant misconduct or criminal activity. The victim was taken to the coroner's office, where a post-mortem examination will be performed. On Saturday, investigators from the Ontario Fire Marshal's office worked to determine the cause and extent of the fire, along with the Toronto Fire Department and police. The investigation is ongoing.

One city official said about 354 people were displaced and 100 were registered at the emergency center. It is not yet known what caused the blaze or how soon residents could return.

Charles Hansen, director of the city's Office of Emergency Management, said residents should stay with family and friends if they can, but tenants were also directed to the community center of Dreadwood, where the Red Cross and the city assisted those who needed them. needed shelter, food and supplies. While initial reports say the building is home to about 700 residents, Hansen said about 354 people have been displaced and 100 registered in the center.

Since Sunday, York University has opened emergency shelters in the gymnasium and vacant rooms. Hansen said families and children will have priority in homes and said there is a city building near the university in case more people are in need of shelter. Hansen said residents "usually" have rent insurance, and the building itself is considering what it can do to help them.

"We want to be safe before anyone returns," he said. "Until then, we will surely take care of their needs."

Jacob Joseph, his wife Nasek Mero and their two sons lived in the unit in the lower part of the building for four years after coming to Canada from Syria via Jordan.

"My country is on fire," said Joseph, dressed in a Canada ball cap on the driver's seat. "Here it is."

When the alarm went off while Mero was preparing dinner, Joseph said they should leave, but Mero refused and told him he was going to die there. Pointing to the smoke, he convinced her, and the family left. They were able to return for some basic things later later that night.

Jakop Joseph and his wife, Nasek Mero, center, were among the displaced. Mero's cousin Enenan Mnajarji offered them shelter, right.

Joseph Joseph, 61, took out the phone to show a photo of his recent Canadian citizenship ceremony. It was an instant detour from the yellow fireball in front of their building. Mero's cousin Enenan Mnajarji – who made room for the family of four in her apartment on Friday night – was also frustrated by the lack of answers. To see someone in need, "our heart couldn't stand it," she said. "We try to do our best; we can do whatever we can. "

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She knew how upset her cousin was. Mero said he felt like a refugee again. "She wants to go home," Mnajarji said.

Many of the tenants have lived in the building for decades. Henrietta Obeng, 19, has been living there since birth. She said the building is a friendly place where "everyone knows everyone". On Saturday, the question "When can we go home?" Was one that no one could answer. Richard Derstroff, with the fire marshal's office in Ontario, said there was "significant damage" from smoke and fire from the seventh to the ninth floors and noted that the eighth floor would be "inaccessible for a significant period". Just how long it will be unclear. The 1,500 residents displaced by the devastating blaze on 650 Parliament Street in August 2018 have not yet returned to their building, with the latest update showing a return date of 2020 at the earliest.

The damage to the North York building was evident from the back of the structure, where perverted metal door frames, broken windows, charred bricks and burnt balconies could be seen, along with icy rust left over. of firefighters. Many of the units appeared unaffected, with windows overlapping and Christmas lights on. Maria Nasimi, who lives on the fifth floor, stayed in her unit until 2am to clear the water damage as crews worked to extinguish the blaze. Another man said he and his family stayed until 4 p.m. He did not want to give his name, but said he was staying at the community center in Dreightwood, and that they were looking after his family.

On Saturday, a steady stream of people came to the community center with water, snacks and take-off containers that left a trail of cold air. Many have been told that food cannot be processed at the center, but they can donate it privately.

Gaya Siba brought several cases of water and snacks. She doesn't know anyone, she just feels compelled to do something. "It's really hard," she said.

Katie Daubes

Katie Daubes is a Toronto-based feature film writer and writer. Follow her on Twitter: @kdaubs

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