‘It’s traumatizing:’ Dozens of residents displaced indefinitely after Oshawa apartment fire

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Dozens remain displaced by Oshawa apartment fire
Residents who were displaced by last weekend's apartment fire in Oshawa are pleading for the community's help. Brittany Rosen reports. – Jul 9, 2021

Sixty residents remain displaced following an apartment fire that broke out on Ritson Road in Oshawa, Ont., Saturday.

One man was taken to hospital and remains in stable condition. Oshawa Fire says there is an estimated $4-million in damage to the building.

When the fire initially broke out, tenants were evacuated and transferred to one of the city’s emergency evacuation centres. From there, the region, in partnership with Cornerstone and other local agencies, has been working to temporarily house victims in various hotels across the region.

Megan Turner, who lived at the building for three years, was left with a tote with some personal belongings and her dog Luna following the fire. Like the dozens of other residents of the building, she now carries next to nothing except the clothes on her back.

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“It’s more the sentimental items that I couldn’t get back — from my grandparents that have passed away, photos of family — those things that I won’t get back that are really upsetting,” she said.

While Turner is currently staying with family, most other tenants like Brittany Fice and Corey Spiers have nowhere to go.

“It almost feels like a bit of a death in the family,” Fice said.

“When you lose everything that you’ve been working for, for years, and you just watch it go up in flames and become so water damaged that you can’t save anything — it almost feels like it was all for nothing.”

Fice says the building housed people from all walks of life, including elderly people, single mothers and families with young children.

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“For people who work hard every day and for all the families there who have put every penny they have into a good home, a safe roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and for it to all be taken away? It’s traumatizing,” she said.

Crews have deemed the cause of the fire to be careless smoking, which they say was preventable. Turner alleges the tenant who caused the fire had previously flooded other renters’ units and unintentionally set his own unit on fire.

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“I’ve lived there for three years. He’s caught his own apartment on fire twice and flooded three units below by falling asleep and forgetting that he had the stove on or the sink on,” she said.

“We’ve all made multiple complaints that it’s not safe to have somebody in that state living that close to that many people.”

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There are unconfirmed reports fire extinguishers were inaccessible when the flames broke out. The majority of tenants were not covered by insurance, which is why the region is stressing all renters should get coverage immediately.

“It’s not just to protect their valuables or personal liability, but it also protects them in instances where they’re not able to return to their units,” said Alan Robins, the region’s director of housing services.

In recent days, there has been an outpouring of support from the community and social service agencies. However, families are still in dire need of donations, financial assistance and storage for their furniture. Those looking to help can drop off donations at the Carea Community Health Centre in Oshawa.

Aside from donations, the most important help displaced families say they currently need is with permanent housing. While the region is assisting residents with finding a place to live, staff are also putting out a call to landlords with available units.

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A community Facebook page and several GoFundMe fundraisers have since been set up to support displaced residents.

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