‘Difficult to extinguish’ fire still burns at historic Montreal monastery

Click to play video: 'Fire still burning in Montreal heritage building 24 hours after it started'
Fire still burning in Montreal heritage building 24 hours after it started
WATCH: A devastating fire is still burning in a former monastery in downtown Montreal. Firefighters have been trying to contain the blaze for more than 24 hours, to no avail. As Global's Gloria Henriquez reports, the mayor and fire chief visited the site on Friday.

A major fire at a heritage building in Montreal continued to burn Friday, one day after authorities were first alerted to flames and smoke.

Montreal Fire Chief Richard Liebmann said the fire at the Monastère du Bon-Pasteur, a 19th-century former monastery, is “very difficult to extinguish” given the complex structure and construction materials.

It appears the blaze began in the attic, he added, and firefighters have had a hard time reaching the flames from both inside and above the building.

“We’re still working on getting the fire out, but fortunately no one was hurt,” Liebmann told reporters gathered near the scene Friday morning.

The fire began around 4:30 p.m. Thursday and quickly became a five-alarm blaze, requiring more than 150 firefighters to intervene at the building on Sherbrooke Street.

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Liebmann said no serious injuries were reported, though a firefighter was treated at the scene. Another man in his 80s was later found in a part of the complex not on fire and treated by paramedics.

The heritage building — which includes a residence for seniors, a housing cooperative, a daycare centre and condominiums — was evacuated.

The fire broke out just before 5 p.m. Thursday at the Monastère du Bon-Pasteur, a 19th century former monastery, in Montreal. Sylvain Trudeau/Global News
A view of the damage to the Monastère du Bon-Pasteur in Montreal on Friday, May 26, 2023.

The fire department is certain that no one was left behind after preliminary and secondary searches, Liebmann said. The fire forced 39 people from their homes and 27 were taken in by the Red Cross.

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Environment Canada has also issued a special bulletin for poor air quality due to the smoke created by the fire. Children, seniors and people with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, “are especially at risk,” the bulletin states.

“Everybody was able to get out in time so no incident whatsoever but the quality of air is not its best so I invite Montrealers to stay away,” Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said.

Click to play video: 'Montreal mayor speaks as fire burns on at former monastery'
Montreal mayor speaks as fire burns on at former monastery

Plante urged residents to avoid the area to let firefighters work, though officials could not give a firm timeline as to when the fire would be fully out.

The building, which is located in the heart of downtown Montreal, was built in 1846 and retained its religious vocation until the 1960s. It was formally recognized as a heritage building in 1979. Aside from housing, the multiservice centre includes a chapel that is now a concert hall and it also houses the offices of Heritage Montreal, a non-profit that promotes and protects the city’s heritage.

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Culture Minister Mathieu Lacombe said once the fire is brought under control, the conversation will turn to how to rebuild.

— with files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier, Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press

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