An evacuation could happen to you 

A much publicized evacuation of a downtown Toronto apartment building last summer on Wellesley Avenue was not a once-in-a-lifetime occurence.

As you read the following three newspaper articles, you will see that it can happen anywhere at any time.

Heat restored to North York highrise complex after two days in the cold

Toronto Star
by: Carys Mills and Cynthia Vukets
21 January 2011

Residents of a North York highrise complex are back at home after a power outage cut off heat for nearly two days.

Firefighters helped evacuate 31, 33 and 35 St. Dennis Dr. in Flemingdon Park on Thursday evening, but many of the 1,000 residents chose to remain in their unheated apartments, explained city spokesman Rob Andrusevich.

Of the people who left their homes, about 75 residents stayed overnight at the Dennis R. Timbrell community centre and some spent the snowy night — with temperatures dropping to a low of -14 C — with family or friends.

On Friday morning, a generator began supplying limited amounts of power to the complex. By the afternoon there was enough electricity to guarantee fire alarms would function, allowing the residents to return home.

By about 4:30 p.m. Andrusevich advised that heat had been restored to the complex.

The evacuation began on Thursday, when the fire department arrived around 5:45 p.m. because a burst pipe had triggered a “water flow alarm.” At that point, the complex had already been without power for about 24 hours.

The apartments were too cold to sleep in, especially for children, pets and elderly people, said Toronto Fire Capt. David Eckerman.

For Toronto Fire, however, the major concern was that the complex was without fire alarms or sprinklers.

“If there had been an incident there would be no alarms, perhaps no notification to us, and that’s a danger,” said Eckerman.


Roehampton fire could have been disastrous, officials say
Four injured in third apartment building fire in a month
By: St. Catharines Standard Staff
12 January 2011
The city's third major apartment building fire in a month has left Mark Mehlenbacher at his wits end.

The St. Catharines fire chief can't comprehend why anyone would disable a device that was specifically designed to save their lives.

Hours after an early morning blaze injured four people and forced the evacuation of an eight-storey apartment building at 64 Roehampton Ave. Tuesday, firefighters charged seven tenants with tampering with the smoke alarms in their units. They face $235 fines if found guilty.

"They don't get it. They absolutely don't get it," Mehlenbacher said Tuesday afternoon. "I just have to look at people and wonder why you would put your family in danger. Why would you do that?"

What's even more puzzling, he said, is that residents at the 130-unit building should fully understand how indiscriminately disaster can strike.

Four weeks ago, on Dec. 10, a blaze ripped through a fourth-floor unit at the apartment next door at 70 Roehampton, forcing the evacuation of about 150 tenants.

Mehlenbacher said many of the tenants at 64 Roehampton helped out their neighbours with temporary shelter that night.

Early Tuesday morning, residents at 70 Roehampton returned the favour.

"It's a very strange coincidence," the fire chief said.

"They've seen the tragedy. Fortunately, nobody's died, but it's only a matter of time."

The toll from Tuesday's fire could have been far worse, fire officials said. Firefighters had to rescue two tenants in the second-floor unit where the fire originated.

The rescuers smashed a window and used a ladder to get the tenants out of a back bedroom where they had sought shelter from the heavy smoke and flames, Chief Fire Prevention Officer Jim Waycik said.

"It sounds like they got them just in time," he said.

Mehlenbacher said the victims were taken to hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and later released. "We came very close to losing two people," he said.

The quick thinking of a dispatcher with the fire department and a passerby also helped alert tenants of the emergency, officials said.

The passerby called 911 to report the fire at about 1:40 a.m. and told the dispatcher no alarms were sounding in the building. The dispatcher directed the passerby to enter the apartment and pull a manual alarm.

"It was a very smart move by the dispatcher. That went above and beyond … You just can't teach those types of things," Mehlenbacher said.

Unlike newer properties, Waycik said the building at 64 Roehampton isn't required to have smoke-activated alarms in hallways and common areas outside units.

By mid-day Tuesday, all but one of the fire victims had been released from hospital.

An Ontario Fire Marshal's office investigator and a fire prevention inspector with the St. Catharines Fire Department were at the scene, combing through the ashes Tuesday morning.

The cause of the fire is believed to be accidental, but the investigation isn't yet complete. Damage is pegged at approximately $250,000.

It's not clear how long displaced tenants on the second floor will have to remain out of their homes.

Waycik said it would take anywhere from "a couple of days to a couple of weeks" for the units to be cleaned up and made habitable.

The apartment where the fire broke out is expected to be out of commission for repairs for a longer period.

Residents of six of the evacuated units are being provided emergency shelter by the Red Cross at the St. Catharines Days Inn, the city said in a news release.

The remainder have made their own arrangements to stay temporarily with friends and relatives.

Shortly before noon Tuesday, evacuees Mario and Rezia Calimlim were waiting in the building's lobby, anxious to find out when they'll be permitted to return to their apartment on the second floor.

The couple and their two daughters spent the night with relatives nearby, but said they'll need to make other plans if they're out long-term.

"One or two nights is fine, but not if it takes a week," said Mario, who was working the night shift when the fire started.

Rezia said she and her daughters fled the building in their pajamas after hearing the alarm and seeing smoke.

"No jackets, not even shoes," she said.

"When I saw the smoke I just said, 'Go down, go down.'"

In addition to the two Roehampton fires, a Dec. 15 blaze forced out 300 tenants at 378 Vine St. and caused more than $500,000 damage.


We call it Firelane Alley
St. Catharines
17 January 2011
Diane Sanders and her neighbours have a name for their stretch of rooms at the St. Catharines Days Inn. "We call it Firelane Alley," she said over the weekend.

The nickname has nothing to do with the hotel itself.

It refers to the reason why the hotel has become a home away from home for a dozen or so St. Catharines residents. The group of evacuees has been staying there since Tuesday, when a blaze destroyed a second-storey unit at their eight-storey apartment building at 64 Roehampton Ave.

Damage from the fire—caused primarily by the thick clouds of toxic smoke—left everyone living in the 17 units on the second floor temporarily homeless until their apartments are cleaned and the damage repaired.

It's not clear how long tenants will be displaced, but fire officials estimate it could be up to a couple of weeks for those in the worst-hit units.

In the meantime, about half of the evacuees are being put up by the Canadian Red Cross at the hotel and are being assisted by several social services agencies. The remainder have made arrangements on their own to stay with friends or relatives.

"They don't know when we'll get back," Sanders said Saturday, sitting in the hotel lobby with neighbour and evacuee Linda Hatrick. "They told us to live day by day."

The evacuees have been drawn closer by the ordeal, both women said.

Most tenants got out with only the clothes they were wearing, which was pajamas for a large number of them since the blaze broke out about 1:30 a.m.

They've been allowed back to their units, escorted by fire officials, to grab some basic necessities -- medication, pets and other items -- but are making do with very few of the comforts of home.

"We're all sharing things with each other," said Sanders, who has lived at the apartment with her 20-year-old daughter Gracey for eight years.

The hotel room she and Gracey occupy, along with their puppy and two cats, is equipped with a microwave oven, which has become a draw for many of the evacuees to use for snacks and meals.

Families are swapping the few items of clothing they took with them or have been able to buy with donated vouchers from the Salvation Army.

"I think it's brought everyone together. I didn't even really know anybody very well before," said Hatrick, who has lived at the building for 16 years.

While it may not be quite like home, Sanders and Hatrick said they're extremely grateful for the help and support they've received since the fire. In addition to the social agencies assisting them, other people have stepped forward on their own to offer help.

Sanders pointed to the Pet Smart location on YMCA Dr. that donated a large amount of pet food and kitty litter to her and another displaced tenant at the hotel with a dog.

Staff at the hotel have also gone out of their way to make the displaced tenants feel comfortable. "Everyone has been just so awesome," she said.

The kindness helps the women deal with the bad memories they have of the fear and panic they felt fighting their way through the smoke-clogged corridor out of the building.

Hatrick said she opened her door after being woken by the fire alarm, but retreated inside because of the dense black smoke. She stayed on her balcony.

"It was so dark and I thought the floor was going to give out."

A short while later, a firefighter pounded on her door and escorted her through the smoke to safety. "I had to hang on to his hand to get down. I couldn't see anything," she said.

After hearing regular false alarms in the building over the years, Sanders said she was also terrified to open her door and see a wall of smoke.

"I said to my daughter, 'It's real. Let's go.' It was the scariest thing I've ever been through."

The cause of the fire is believed to be accidental. Damage is pegged at approximately $250,000.

The blaze was the third major apartment fire in the city in a month.

A Dec. 10 blaze ripped through a fourth-floor unit at the apartment next door at 70 Roehampton, forcing the temporary evacuation of about 150 tenants. Officials said the cause of the fire was accidental.

Less than a week later, on Dec. 15, another fire forced out 300 tenants at 378 Vine St. and caused more than $500,000 damage.

The fire began after an electrical problem caused a scooter to go up in flames, which spread to the apartment unit.

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