While I slept last night, a massive fire broke out about a block away from where I live. The first call to emergency services came in before 4am. The fire involved a historic building that was constructed just after the turn of the 20th century. Though it was old, it still housed several businesses, including a Vietnamese restaurant that I often patronized with a friend. It was the only place to get pho in the area.
I slept through the whole thing but I do remember in a sleepy haze thinking that there seemed to be a lot more sirens going off than usual. Even in my deep sleep, it appeared that the sound of sirens was almost constant for a lengthy period of time. Some time later, I heard the distinctive fire alarm coming from a nearby apartment but I drifted back off to sleep. I later learned it was the building next to me, the alarm going off possibly because of all the smoke nearby.
I awoke when my alarm went off. Staying in bed, I grabbed my phone and realized that I had been tagged in a Facebook post by a friend. This was the friend whom I had gone to the Vietnamese restaurant with. He lives just across the street from the fire and he took a spectacular picture of the still smoldering site from his top floor apartment. It was in the post that he informed me that our pho hangout was nothing but rubble now.
I was shocked that the fire happened overnight and I didn’t even realize it. By then, the news had already been reported on several web sites. Reading through the stories, I then got the scope of the fire. It had consumed half a block in buildings. Some had already listed it as the third worst fire in the history of the municipality. Apparently, you’d have to go back to the early 1900s to find a fire of comparable size. The firefighters had been battling the blaze since about 4am and at almost 9am they were still trying to control the fire. The fire was so large that the local fire department had requested assistance from neighbouring municipalities. At one point, fire vehicles had police escorts to get to the affected area. I am guessing that for some of the firefighters involved, this was probably the largest fire they have ever encountered in their careers.
It was when I got out of bed that I realized how large the fire was. My entire apartment smelled like smoke and my throat was a bit scratchy because I had been breathing in a bit of smoke while I had slept. I really wanted to continue to read the news or even go take a look at the fire from a distance but I had to go get ready for work. As I was about to leave my apartment I looked outside my windows again. Even though I face the wrong way and couldn’t see the fire, a huge cloud of smoke was moving past my balcony. It was clear to me that the fire was far from under control.
In the hallway of my apartment, the air was considerably stronger with the smell of smoke. It hung in the elevator while I went downstairs and certainly was in the air when I got outside on the train platform. It was only after I got to work that the fire was finally under control and the other businesses were no longer in danger.
It’s very unfortunate for every one of those business owners but I feel especially bad for the people who ran the Vietnamese restaurant. Next month would have been just their second anniversary. I do wonder if there is some way for people to lend all the business owners some assistance. If there is one thing to be thankful for in all of this, it’s that no one was injured in the fire. The firefighters battling the blaze did a tremendous job as did everyone involved, including the police and utilities crews.
At around 9pm this evening I went to see the affected area and I got close enough to see that it’s just a pile of debris now. Equipment had been brought in to knock everything down. I can’t even see the booths where I used to sit and slurp my beef broth. It’s my hope that corner gets rebuilt and not rebuilt as a condo tower. There’s already too much of that in this city. I hope a brave and ambitious developer does something different with the area.
If you’re curious, the video above shows the fire well over an hour after it started.