By: Mike Anderson
A gas leak is thought to be the cause of a major fire that gutted three townhouse units and severely damaged another at 113 North Street, in Sutton, on May 21, leaving more than two dozen people homeless.
Although the Ontario Fire Marshal (OFM) has yet to determine the exact cause of the fire, eyewitnesses said a gas leak occurred in number 8, and flames quickly spread through the three-storey townhouse condominium, before igniting the neighbouring units.
The 9-1-1 call was received at 6.19 p.m., and firefighters arrived on scene by 6:22 p.m., according to Georgina Fire Chief Ron Jenkins.
Chief Jenkins said the multi-unit fire, the largest Georgina has seen so far this year, required the entire fire department to respond, a total of 10 fire trucks and 40 firefighters.
Residents said they had just minutes to get out, but were lucky to be alive, thanks largely to James Page, a neighbour, who knocked on everyone’s front door.
Mr. Page, who lives in number 7, initially tried to put the fire out with a jug of water, but quickly gave up on that idea.
“I suddenly realized this ain’t going to work. It was too much of an inferno. So I just got out and started pounding on the doors to get them out.”
“Jim made sure everybody got out of the units, so everybody was safe,” said Steve Mulvina, 65, who lives with Marianne Gravelle, 59, in the end unit, number 9, which as destroyed by the fire.
“We heard banging on the door. Jim told us to get out; the gas line was going to blow. I ran upstairs to get Marianne. She didn’t even have time to pick up her medications, phone or even her purse.”
Mr. Mulvina also couldn’t find Marianne’s two cats. “I left the door open for them, but I don’t know if they got out, ” he said.
Mr. Mulvina was shocked by how fast the fire spread.
“Everything caught fire really fast. The flames next door were intense. Number 8 was completely burned out by the time we got downstairs,” he said.
“I could see flames coming through our sliding doors into the living room. Then black smoke was coming out of the dining room window,” said Ms. Gravelle, who was distraught over the loss of her home and her missing cats, but also grateful to be alive.
“If this would have happened at night, I don’t think we would have got out,” she said.
“The time of day was fortunate because people were awake and aware,” Chief Jenkins said. “But even with the awareness, this fire spread incredibly quickly. We were on scene in less that three minutes, but this fire already had a very good hold on the structure.”
Chief Jenkins said that the speed in which this fire spread underlines the importance of having working smoke detectors in your home.
“It’s critically important you have properly place smoke alarms and that you check and make sure they’re working and you have an escape plan, because you really do just have seconds,” he said.
While 26 residents were displaced by the fire, only eight required 72-hour emergency housing provided by the Canadian Red Cross, according to a Town spokesperson.
Despite their losses, some residents said they were fortunate it wasn’t much worse.
“It’s a tragedy for a small town like this. So many people who can’t go back and get their things,” said Alfred Timothy Porte, whose aunt’s unit, number 6, was also severely damaged by water and smoke. “But luckily, no one was hurt.”
“The building can be replaced. But a life can’t,” Mr. Page added.