The Montreal fire department worked to bring a major five-alarm blaze under control Friday afternoon after the flames forced about 20 families out in the bitter cold in the city’s east end.
The frigid weather conditions made it difficult for the 150 firefighters at the scene in the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough. Their jackets were covered in ice and some of their equipment froze as the fire went on for hours.
“They’re full of water on them so they get cold,” said fire department section chief William Murray. “Equipment freezes also, so we always need new equipment being brought on site, people to relieve the other firefighters.”
Montreal remained under a extreme cold warning, with the wind chill making it feel like -40 by noon. Temperatures quickly plummeted throughout the morning and were expected to continue dropping in the afternoon.
Authorities were called around 7:45 a.m. to the scene on Sherbrooke Street near de Carignan Avenue. The affected building is home to both businesses and two storeys’ worth of apartments.
Judelle Vincent, the building manager, told Global News that there are about 40 apartments in the complex — 10 of which were heavily damaged by the fire. Residents sought shelter at a nearby restaurant and the Red Cross will provide hotel accommodation for at least 72 hours for those who cannot return home.
The next step, Vincent said, is to make sure all the residents are safe and to “find them a place to live.”
As of 12:30 p.m., firefighters were still stationed outside the building and on the roof to extinguish the flames. Thick clouds of smoke billowed through the sky.
Montreal police say two police officers required medical attention due to the smoke from the fire. Despite the extent of the fire and the biting cold, police said the evacuation of residents from the burning building went well.
The fire department cut power off in the area and several blocks were off limits to traffic. The public was told to avoid the area.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante thanked the fire department for their ongoing efforts to bring the fire under control.
“My thoughts are with the families and merchants affected by this fire,” she wrote on Twitter. “We are with you.”
The cause of the fire is not yet known.
— with files from The Canadian Press