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1,500 residents displaced after St. James Town highrise fire

Last Updated Jan 23, 2019 at 7:31 pm EDT

About 1,500 residents have been displaced after a challenging, six-alarm fire at a St. James Town highrise Tuesday afternoon.

Crews were called to the building near Parliament and Bloor streets around 1 p.m. Tuesday, after the fire started in a hydro vault in the basement and smoke quickly spread throughout the 20-storey building.

The fire which has since been extinguished and smoke was cleared from all of the units.

However, due to damage to the highrise’s systems, all residents were evacuated from the building and likely won’t be able to return for days as repairs are being made.

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said due to the safety concerns, he issued an “immediate threat to life notice” and residents will be prohibited from returning to the building until repairs have been made or until further notice.

Mayor John Tory said between 1,200 and 1,500 people can expect to be out of their homes for days. He said they have yet to determine the exact number as some have gone to stay with friends or family.

At the height of the fire, 26 vehicles, more than 100 firefighters, 17 pumpers and other equipment and personnel were at the scene.

Hydro had to be cut to the building and, with the elevators out, firefighters each had to carry more than 100 pounds of equipment up and down the stairs.

“Our crews are exhausted. It’s extremely difficult on them,” Pegg told reporters. “We’ve upgraded the alarm levels to make sure that we have enough people here to continue the job in a seamless manner and afford our people the safety that they need or the rehab that they need to stay safe.”

In a release, the City of Toronto said only four minor injuries were reported. Two people were taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, but no other serious injuries were reported.

Residents were allowed into their units Wednesday to collect their belongings.

Those who can’t stay with family or friends are being housed in a temporary emergency shelter at Wellesley Community Centre. The Red Cross is also working to secure hotel rooms for displaced residents.

Mayor Tory is appealing to anyone who might able to provide housing to the residents. If anyone is able offer hotel rooms, Airbnb rooms, or any type of housing, they are asked to email gtaresponse@redcross.ca.

On Wednesday evening Airbnb said in a release that it has activated its Open Homes program in Toronto and select areas in the GTA till Sept. 2.

The program helps connect local residents who have been displaced with local hosts who are opening their homes for free in the event of major disasters.

The company has set up a webpage for people who want to sign up to help or those looking for shelter.

In addition, Toronto’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) along with the Red Cross are working together to provide services to the residents including social service support, help to acquire medications, meals and sleeping rooms as well as pet retrieval and temporary housing for pets till they can be re-united with their owners. Animal Services has provided supplies for the displaced pets and and will provide support as needed.

The cause of the fire and estimated damages has not been determined.