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North York residents face uncertain future after fire hits dead, hundreds of displaced

Calls to 911 arrived quickly as firefighters roamed the flames and heavy smoke to rescue tenants and prevent the fire from a high point in North York. At first there was official relief that everyone had been held responsible and that no one had been seriously injured. However, when preliminary investigations began early Saturday, a person was found dead on an eighth-floor balcony.

"That's tragic. It's unfortunate. It breaks my heart," Toronto fire chief Matthew Pegg said. "But, as I said last night, to the best of my knowledge and all of us on the ground, we didn't believe it." that was the circumstance. "

In front of 235 Gosford Blvd., a 16-story building near Jane Street and Steeles Avenue West, Pegg explained that live updates come with the understanding that information can change. At no time on Friday did the firefighters have any indication that anyone was missing, he said. He expressed his condolences to "all those affected by the tragic loss."

After the fire, hundreds of residents were displaced. York University has intervened to provide emergency shelter from Sunday, but officials are unsure when residents will be able to return home, leaving many families in a state of uncertainty.

Pegg said Friday's fire is a complex and demanding situation for the 100 firefighters involved. The search for occupants began immediately and "never stopped," he said, when an "extraordinary" number of 911 calls were filtered to the command post and teams moved from door to door. Six residents were rescued and treated, with one taken to hospital under stable conditions.

The circumstances of Friday's fire were such that the "safest, most efficient and effective" option was to send firefighters inside, he said. Because of the strong flames in Unit 808 – where the flames began – teams were unable to enter the apartment and adjacent units for a "primary search." It was unclear if the person on the unit's balcony had called 911. Pegg didn't. We believe the teams had "specific information" about a person there.

The identity of the victim has not been disclosed and the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Toronto Police Insp. Jim Gotell said there is no reason to believe that death involves any crime or criminal activity. The victim was taken to the coroner's office building, where a post-mortem examination will be completed. On Saturday, investigators from the Ontario Fire Department office were working to determine the cause and spread of the fire, along with the Toronto Fire Service and the police. The investigation is ongoing.

A city official said about 354 people were displaced and 100 registered at an emergency center. It is not yet known what caused the fire or how soon residents could return.

Charles Jansen, director of the city's Emergency Management Office, said residents should stay with family and friends if they can, but tenants were also directed to the Driftwood Community Center, where the Red Cross and the city were helping their families. in need of shelter, food and supplies. Although initial reports say the building houses about 700 residents, Jansen said approximately 354 people were displaced and 100 registered downtown.

Starting Sunday, York University is opening emergency shelter facilities in a gym and empty dormitories. Jansen said families and children will be given priority in dormitories and said there is a city-owned building near the university if more people need shelter. Jansen said residents "usually" have tenant insurance, and the building itself is investigating what it can do to help.

"We want to make sure it's perfectly safe before bringing someone back," he said. "By then, we will surely be taking care of your needs."

Yaacop Joseph, his wife Nazek Mero, and their two children lived in a unit at the bottom of the building for four years after coming from Syria to Canada via Jordan.

"My country is fire," said Joseph, wearing a Canadian cap on the driver's seat. "Here it is too."

When the alarm went off while Mero was preparing dinner, Joseph said they needed to leave, but Mero refused and said she would die there. Pointing at the smoke, he convinced her and the family left. They were able to return to some essentials much later that night.

Yaacop Joseph and his wife, Nazek Mero, center, were among the displaced residents. Mero's cousin Jenan Mnayarji on the right offered them shelter.

Joseph, 61, picked up the phone to show a picture of his recent Canadian citizenship ceremony. It was a momentary distraction from the yellow ribbon of fire outside the building. Mero's cousin Jenan Mnayarji – who made room for the family of four inside her apartment Friday night – was also frustrated by the lack of answers. To see someone in need, "our heart couldn't take it," she said. “We try to do our best; Everything we can do, we do.

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She knew how upset her cousin was. Mero said she feels like a refugee again. "She wants to go home," Mnayarji said.

Many of the tenants have lived in the building for decades. Henrietta Obeng, 19, has lived there since birth. She said the building is a friendly place where "everyone knows everyone". On Saturday, the question "When can we go home?" It was a question no one could answer. Richard Derstroff, with the Ontario Fire Marshal office, said there was "significant damage" caused by smoke and fire from the seventh to ninth floor, and noted that the eighth floor would be "inaccessible for a significant period." that will be clear. The 1,500 displaced residents of a devastating fire on 650 Parliament Street in August 2018 are not yet back in their building, and the latest update shows a return date of at least 2020.

Damage to the North York building was evident at the rear of the structure, where you could see twisted metal frames, broken windows, burnt bricks, and burned balconies, along with rust-colored icicles left from the fire brigade. Many of the units seemed unaffected, with the window curtains intact and the Christmas lights in place. Maria Nassimi, who lives on the fifth floor, stayed in her unit until 2 am to clean up water damage as teams worked to extinguish the fire. Another man said he and his family stayed until four in the morning. He didn't want to give his name, but said he was at the Driftwood community center and that they were taking good care of the family.

On Saturday, a steady stream of people arrived at the community center with water, snacks, and travel containers that left a trail of steam in the cold air. Many said the food could not be processed at the center, but they could donate it privately.

Gaya Siba brought some cases of water and snacks. She doesn't know anyone, but she felt compelled to do something. "It's very hard," she said.

Katie Daubs

Katie Daubs is a reporter and news writer for Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @kdaubs

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