Smoke chokes Rye

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By Graeme Smith

A fire which burned caused $20,000 in damages and billowed foul smoke over the campus could have been prevented, a city fire official says.

Chief Peter Ferguson attributed the three-alarm blaze at the former Sears Warehouse building, to “poor housekeeping” by Cresford Developments, the company renovating the landmark building for condominium lofts that, when developed, will be worth $75 million.

The corner of Gould and Mutual Streets was so choked with acrid haze Monday that it was difficult to breathe for firefighters and bystanders.

Glass shattered and rubble crumbled inside the building. Campus security moved back crowds of students watching the fire when the smoke became dangerously thick.

Fire crews responded the scene at 11:00 a.m. It took 78 firefighters nearly three hours to contain the blaze. Sparked by a construction worker’s welding torch, the fire was fed debris in an elevator shaft and was only extinguished when crews used front-end loaders and bobcats to remove the rubble.

Ferguson looked as though he’d had better days when he emerged from the scene, his face streaked with sweat and soot.

“The elevator shaft was full of debris,” Ferguson said. “It’s their garbage that’s burning. Our inspectors have been chasing them. There was a work order last week from the Ministry of Labor to remove the buildup (of debris). They may have been dragging their feet.”

Kathy Kinnear, president of Cresford Development, who owns the building and was inside when the fire started, said the refuse was only two or three days’ accumulation.

“It’s a big building,” Kinnear said. “We’ve been getting it cleaned out as quickly as we can.”

Another removal of refuse was scheduled for that morning. “I guess these things just happen,” she said.

Jim Small, acting district chief of the Fire Dept. said the debris was “mostly wood, plastic and lath” burning the shaft.

“We had to do a whole lot of digging. The column of debris was three stories high,” Small said.

PCBs were stored in the building, but they were not affected by the flames and were safely removed.

The fire was “no more difficult than usual,” said Scott Cowden, a spokesman for the Toronto Fire Dept. Three firefighters sustained minor injuries.

John Frank, a building construction worker, was inside when the fire started. He noticed the smell of burning cedar and saw flames in the elevator shaft.

“We didn’t stay inside to see what was going on,” said Frank.  “We got out.”

Kinnear, who purchased the building from Sears in 1988, said the schedule to complete the renovations will not be affected.

The first phase of the renovations is to be completed by spring. Kinnear said the damage is minor: “It’s only debris that’s burning. The building is solid concrete. It ain’t going anywhere.”

Although, she admitted, “I’ve had better days.”

The International Living Learning Centre residence was temporarily closed “due to the extensive smoke.”

Amy Leaming, a first-year tourism and hospitality student, was among those locked out of class.

“We all smell like a campfire,” She said. “It smelled so bad.”

The landmark building was built in stages between 1910 and 1948. Part of it has been designated “historic” by the Toronto Historical Board.

Ironically, this week is Fire Prevention Week.


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