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Fatal Guelph house fire had no working smoke alarms

Four house fires in a short span of time is 'unprecedented,' said Guelph fire chief Brian Arnold

The house where two people died in a fire Monday morning did not have working smoke alarms, says the Ontario Fire Marshal.

There were four house fires this week in Guelph and in three of those incidents, fire officials confirm that working smoke alarms alerted residents to evacuate the home.

The lone home without smoke alarms active was the fatal fire on Edinburgh Road South early Monday morning.

And as it turns out, “many units” within the same townhouse complex didn’t have working smoke alarms either, says the Guelph Fire Department.

The Ontario Fire Marshal and Guelph fire officials spoke to media members Thursday at the site of the home where two women were killed, and two others were injured.

Guelph fire chief Brian Arnold said staff who canvassed the townhomes in the wake of the fatal fire provided and installed alarms for those units.

But in a blunt and direct plea to the public, he called on residents to do their part.

“I am pleading with our citizens to wake up,” he said. “I am asking adults to wake up. We teach our children in schools, and community organizations about fire safety and smoke alarms. 

“But our children don’t drive to the hardware store, our children do not make that smoke alarm or CO alarm purchase. And our children are not installing and testing these alarms. Our children are vulnerable and they rely on adults.”

The cause of each fire remains part of an ongoing investigation. There was no update provided on the condition of the two people injured in the fatal fire, as well as the person hurt in a fire on Kirkland Street early Tuesday.

Nobody was hurt in the other two fires this week.

Guelph police stated the non-fatal house fires are not being considered suspicious.

As for the one on Edinburgh, it’s too early to tell, according to the OFM.

“Very early in the investigation. At this point, there’s nothing that leads us to think suspicious,” said Jon Pegg, Ontario’s Fire Marshal.

“Obviously our investigation could change when we start looking at the samples.”

He said the investigation, while the on-scene component is done, “is far from over” and taking a look at the samples off-site for burn patterns, forensics and more will take some time.

Arnold said it’s also still to be determined whether charges will be laid in the wake of the Edinburgh fire, and is part of an ongoing discussion.

“We do take the matter extremely seriously,” he said. “There’s nothing more important than ensuring the safety of the community.”

Having a working smoke alarm on every storey of the home is the law, Pegg added.

He said across the province, house fire numbers go in ebbs and flows on a yearly basis.

But the common denominator in fatal fires is the lack of working smoke alarms.

In 2022, there were 133 fire related deaths in Ontario – the largest number on record – a trend Pegg said continues to rise.

“Through the first few months of 2024, we’re on a very similar trend,” he said. “And something we really need to take serious.”

Arnold echoed sentiments expressed earlier this week by his deputy chief Steve Goode, saying so many fires in a short period of time is "unprecedented" for Guelph. And to emphasize the importance of smoke alarms, he confirmed the fire department is bringing back the Home Safe Home smoke alarm program this spring.

“We will be going door-to-door in the neighbourhoods where the data shows the highest need,” the chief said. 

“We’ll be having conversations, answering your questions about fire safety, and asking you to show us and test your smoke alarms.”

Mark Pare

About the Author: Mark Pare

Originally from Timmins, ON, Mark is a longtime journalist and broadcaster, who has worked in several Ontario markets.
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