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St. Catharines rallies behind family farm and migrant workers following devastating fire

WATCH: The community has rallied behind displaced migrant workers following a fire over the weekend at Pioneer Flower Farms. Thousands of dollars has been raised and truckloads of clothing collected for the 45-employees. Morganne Campbell has more on the community that’s banded together so others don’t go without.

Fire crews continue to battle a blaze at Pioneer Flower Farms in St. Catharines. They’ve been on scene since fire broke out at the rural property Friday night.

Firefighters haven’t started investigating what caused the blaze that ripped through greenhouses, cold storage units and a maintenance shop at the family owned and operated farm.

“The roof is collapsed and it’s pancaked, so it’s got a lot of the hot spots that are inaccessible,” explains St. Catharines Deputy Fire Chief Dave Upper. “So as we make water application, it’s just dropping on top of the roof and it’s not getting to the seed of the areas that are still smouldering.

“We’re nowhere close to beginning the investigation process.”

READ MORE: ‘Like a war zone’: Residents near St. Catharines told to stay indoors due to smoke from large fire

The Ontario Fire Marshal, meanwhile, is on scene at the farm, located on Seventh Street, north of Third Avenue.

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Heavy machinery has been brought in to tear down the parts of the buildings where hotspots are still flaring up, while smoke continues to billow from the multi-million dollar facility that’s the largest bulb producer in North America.

About 45 migrant workers from Mexico lost everything in the fire. Community members rallied together, collecting clothing, food and cash donations as the employees were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

“As a community I feel that we need to stick together. We’re a family business, they’re a family business,” explains Alexis Fusarelli, whose family owns and operates Hernder Estates Wines.

“We’re all about helping people here.”

So far, more than $11,000 has been collected in cash and gift cards to help the workers, who speak very little English, to get whatever clothing, toiletries and food they need.

WATCH: (June 27, 2019) Dramatic photos drawing attention to the plight of migrants

Dramatic photos drawing attention to the plight of migrants
Dramatic photos drawing attention to the plight of migrants

The employees work with an organization called “Farms” and are in Canada for six months at a time.

“I think within the first hour we had 40 cars come in and out,” Fusarelli added.

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“I’m not an emotional person by any means — I am not — but, like, I cried this morning.”

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Carloads of people, opening their hearts and pocketbooks, lined the driveway at the winery. Everyone was looking to offer a helping hand.

“I feel it’s part of my responsibility in the community to look after the migrant workers who come in and do so much work and they support their families back home,” explains Wynne Nicholson while holding an envelope full of gift cards.

“I think it’s important.”

Neighbours helped to organize the donations, which at one point simply became overwhelming.

“I’m very happy to see it, I’m very happy to see it,” says Val McLean. “They’re going to help.

“It’s just devastating; I just think the family is overwhelmed.”

READ MORE: Impaired driver crashes into St. Catharines home, starts fire after hitting gas line: police

Air quality has been a concern as smoke continues to billow from the site. The Ministry of Environment is monitoring the situation and residents experiencing troubles breathing are being advised to turn off air conditioners and close windows and doors.

St. Catharines has been billed as a place known for its kindness, and judging by the outpouring of community support, the community is living up to its reputation.

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“It doesn’t get more Canadian than this, but you know we’re a community and we need to stand up for each other, right?” smiles Fusarelli.