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Fire forces evacuation of downtown high-rise (5 photos)

Fire believed to be electrical in nature.

A small fire on the seventh floor of the aging Park Mall Apartments in downtown Guelph cleared the building of most residents Thursday morning. The fire is believed to be electrical in origin.

The building’s alarm system went off at about 9:15 a.m., building manager Lisa Fischer said at the scene. Power was cut to the apartments, but not to the ground floor businesses.  

At 11 a.m.,Guelph Fire Department deputy chief John Osborne told about 30 residents gathered outside the building that the fire generated “a lot of smoke,” and firefighters were in the process of clearing it. He promised updates every half hour.

Not everyone left the building, and it seems several pets remained inside.

“My husband is disabled,” said Sheila Timson, who has lived in the apartment block at the corner of Yarmouth/Norfolk streets and Quebec Street. “He is deaf and he’s in a wheelchair. He is still in our apartment.”

She said there is a list of disabled residents, so that in the event of a fire or other emergency firefighters and paramedics can tend to their needs and/or take special measures to evacuate them.

“I am worried about him and would like to know how he is,” she said. “I’m sure they will get him down just fine."

Sarah Root was anxious about her dog, a pug that was still in her apartment.

“My dog has bad anxiety attacks when the alarms go off,” Root said. “It’s stupid that they can’t let a couple of us go in to get our pets out. The animals are just as important as the humans in there.”

Lisa Fischer said the fire was believed to electrical and not structural.

At the scene, Osborne said one person was taken by ambulance to Guelph General Hospital. That person’s condition was unknown. He said six fire trucks responded to the alarm, with a total of 26 fire staff on the scene.

At about 10:30 a.m. he said he expected the building to be closed for at least another hour until “they can access the magnitude of the damage.”

Osborne added that the roof of the building houses a great deal of telecommunications infrastructure, and all of it was “up and operational.”

Sheila Timson has lived in the large-scale apartment building since 1995. She said there have been other fires during her time there.

The intersection of Norfolk and Paisley/Quebec looked like a disaster scene. Fire trucks and other vehicles were parked on most every corner. The ladder on one truck was extended up to a seventh floor balcony, and a thick reddish fire hose snaked across the street. Quebec Street was blocked to traffic. 

A Guelph Transit bus was parked on Norfolk as shelter for residents, and the Canadian Red Cross had been alerted in case anyone needed additional assistance or overnight accommodations. 

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Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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