© — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
Firefighters attack a stubborn blaze Wednesday that left three downtown buildings in ruins at the corner of Duckworth Street and Bates Hill in St. John’s.
A portion of Duckworth Street in downtown St. John’s remains closed today as the RNC continues its investigation into the cause of a fire that destroyed three buildings Wednesday.
About 10 a.m. Wednesday, RNC officers from patrol services, forensic identification services and criminal investigation division, along with firefighters from St. John’s Regional Fire Department, responded to the fire in the area of Bates Hill and Duckworth Street.
The three attached structures which housed several businesses and residential units were destroyed as a result of the fire.
There were no injuries reported at the time of the fire.
The RNC is asking anyone who may have any information in relation to the fire to contact the RNC at 729-8000 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). You can provide information anonymously on the NL Crime Stoppers website at www.nlcrimestoppers.com.
Fire guts three buildings
Firefighters hampered by typical downtown construction: deputy chief
There’s a pile of charred rubble on the sidewalk, and the west end of Duckworth Street will remain closed for at least part of today after fire tore through a block of buildings in downtown St. John’s Wednesday.
RNC investigators worked alongside a backhoe operator Wednesday evening to tear away parts of the buildings after fire destroyed several apartments and small businesses at the corner of Duckworth Street and Bates Hill.
Firefighters were called to the scene just before 10 a.m. and found smoke in the building behind the Majestic Theatre.
Bystanders said that even before firefighters showed up, there was smoke coming from windows in the second- and third-floor apartments.
From the beginning, emergency crews had difficulty fighting the blaze.
“This fire is typical of downtown construction,” said Deputy Chief Jerry Peach of the St. John’s Regional Fire Department. “There are walls upon walls, roofs upon roofs. We opened up one roof and found another roof beneath it. The problem with these kinds of downtown fires is the fire tends to hide out and it’s very difficult for us to get at the seat of the fire.”
About an hour after firefighters arrived, they were forced to pull back and take an “operationally defensive” approach. It was impossible to save the block of buildings, so they ordered their people out and focused on preventing the fire from spreading to neighbouring buildings on Queen’s Road, Duckworth Street and Bates Hill.
Fire crews had to scramble to get 24 propane tanks and hotdog carts out of the ground floor of one building.
It took crews from three different fire stations to battle the blaze, but by early afternoon the fire was under control, Peach said.
The buildings were completely gutted and hollowed out, and jets of water tore away melted siding and wood from the frames of the structure.
Bill Hynd, the Atlantic outreach co-ordinator for Oxfam, said he was devastated to see the group’s downtown hub and the Food For Thought store destroyed.
“Inside that building is over 40 years of archives of a tremendous amount of work done by volunteers,” Hynd said. “It just broke my heart.”
A large portion of downtown was closed off for part of the day because of the fire. Duckworth Street, Queen’s Road and Church Hill were closed to traffic.
Police went door-to-door to the houses nearby and advised residents to leave because of the thick smoke.
Firefighters thanked one resident for being co-operative and allowing them to run a hose through the Queen’s Road house so they could spray the back of the fire from the balcony.
By early evening, most of the fire trucks had left, and a backhoe was brought in to pull down unstable portions of the buildings. A fire investigator and an RNC officer worked closely with the backhoe operator to carefully pull away portions of the building and make sure that the structure wasn’t going to collapse on its own.
The work is expected to continue today.