Could be days before power restored to over 200 units after fire at Toronto apartment: officials

Click to play video: 'Fire at Toronto apartment displaces hundreds'
Fire at Toronto apartment displaces hundreds
WATCH: Residents of a Toronto apartment building have no electricity, and no access to water a day after a fire caused extensive damage to the building’s electrical system. Sean O’Shea reports – Aug 21, 2023

It could be “a number of days” before residents in a high-rise Toronto apartment will have power in their suites after a “significant” electrial fire, Toronto fire officials say.

Toronto police said the fire broke out at around 2:19 p.m., on Sunday at an apartment building in the Rusholme Road and Bloor Street West area.

The blaze was quickly escalated to a fifth-alarm which left 267 units in the building without power.

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Toronto’s deputy fire chief Jim Jessop told reporters on Monday, the fire caused significant damage to the building’s electrical rooms, but was contained and did not spread to the hallway.

“The fire doors did their job,” Jessop said.

While smoke could be seen and smelled on the first and second floors, Jessop said no injuries were reported.

“Happy to report Toronto Paramedic Services did not have to transport one person to hospital even for assessment,” he said.

Police initially said officers received reports of an explosion in the electrical room of the building, however, fire officials said it was not immediately clear whether an explosion took place.

The cause and origin of the fire remain under investigation.

“The Office of the fire marshal and the Toronto Fire Investigations Division division is on scene,” Jessop said.

Building deemed safe

Jessop said the building has been declared safe, and residents are allowed to return to their units.

Fire officials worked overnight to ventilate the building, and have been monitoring the air quality to ensure it is safe for residents, Jessop explained.

“From a fire life safety perspective, we have no concerns with the building right now,” he said, adding that fire officials are not ordering an evacuation.

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According to Jessop, the building’s management team has also hired security personnel and has set up an information centre for the tenants. Water is also being distributed.

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“Toronto Fire Service has been on scene all night long conducting welfare checks, we have lit the stairwells up with our lighting and our portable generators,” he said. “And we have done our best to make sure that the residents are safe.”

Power restoration

According to Jessop, power will be restored to the building in phases.

He said the Electrical Safety Authority and the building’s management team hopes to have some power restored to the building Monday evening, calling that the “best case scenario.”

“They’re hoping to restore the fire alarm system, the water pumps and primarily the fire and life safety systems of the building,” he explained, cautioning that it’s a “very fluid and dynamic situation.”

“We have been told that the in suite power to the building and other building services such as the elevators are going to be in what they call phase two,” he continued. “And that is not going to happen for a number of days.”

In an email to Global News on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Sterling Karamar Property Management said the company has “not yet been granted control of the affected site, a necessary condition to beginning the repair effort” due to the ongoing Ontario Fire Marshal’s investigation.

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“We anticipate receiving the necessary approvals later today and are optimistic that power can be safely returned to the units thereafter,” the email read. “While residential suites continue to be without electrical power, Toronto Fire has deemed them safe for occupancy and we are pleased to confirm that water service has been restored to these units. Corridor and common area lighting remains operational, although emergency lighting continues to be utilized in the stairwells.”

The company said initial review of the electrical damage “indicates that the repair work will be challenging.”

“Despite our best efforts, we anticipate that residents may experience service interruptions and continued inconvenience in the coming days, though we are doing our best to limit these challenges,” the email said. “Management continues to communicate directly with residents in a timely fashion and our staff remain available to assist tenants during this challenging period.”

A loud bang

Ethan Bissbort has lived in the building for two and a half years.

He said he was in his apartment when the fire broke out.

“I did hear the bang, and I thought that it was just someone slamming one of the dumpsters or noises that happen around here,” he told Global News on Monday.

He said about five minutes later, he started to hear several alarms.

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“We’ve had fires here before – so it wasn’t bad at first – but I would say two or three minutes later, it was a lot more sirens than I was used to and it got pretty heavy.” He said.

Shortly after that, Bissbort said people were running and yelling to leave the building.

“We had people running out to the back and yelling to other people who were standing on their balconies about needing to like leave the building, like it’s actually on fire. This isn’t some sort of drill,” he said.

Within a half hour, Bissbort said people started exiting the building, many carrying their pets.

“We started getting people sending pictures in the group of … smoke in some of the hallways, I believe there were a few people that said that the stairwells didn’t even have any emergency lighting, so they were on the 10th, 12th floor and they were trying to go all the way down without any ability to see where they’re going,” he said.

Bissbort said the residents have been told the building is considered safe to occupy, but that there is no water or electricity.

Mark King has lived in the building for a couple of years.

He told Global News that he was not home when the fire broke out, but was notified by a friend.

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He said the building quickly filled with smoke and residents were told to shelter in place.

King said the residents haven’t been given too many updates on Monday, except being told they can return to their units.

“They mentioned that they were going to bring porta-potties but they never showed up,” he said.

King said he has re-entered the building, but said the air “does still feel pretty dirty in there.”

King lives on the fifth floor and said he is concerned for those who have mobility issues, especially residents who live on higher floors.

Francoise Aritus lives on the 15th floor and has occupied the unit for 30 years.

She said this is the first time something like this has happened at the building in her time living there.

Aritus said she heard a large explosion and everything in her unit began shaking.

“I wanted to run but the problem is my legs, I cannot run,” she said.

She said she called 9-1-1 and was told to stay on the balcony.

Aritus said she put a wet towel over her mouth and nose to help protect herself from the smoke.

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She said fire department officials helped her down the stairs.

Aritus said she stayed with a friend overnight because she cannot walk up the stairs to her unit.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help support those impacted by the fire.

-with files from Global News’ Sean O’Shea

Click to play video: 'Could be ‘number of days’ before power restored after 5-alarm fire at Toronto apartment: officials'
Could be ‘number of days’ before power restored after 5-alarm fire at Toronto apartment: officials

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