More than 150 people remain out of their homes today as a result of a fire at a St. John’s apartment building Wednesday.
About 50 of those are homeless — until they get their apartments back — and are being looked after by the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, says communications director John Tompkins.
“We’re responsible for emergency social services. If an emergency happens and people need food, clothing and shelter, we provide it and pay for it,” he told The Telegram Thursday afternoon.
According to the department’s website, emergency social services is a response program offering essential services to those affected by wide-scale emergency or disaster in the province.
The fire at the Maplewood Place apartment building on Shaw Street occurred around 4 p.m. Wednesday after flames were discovered in an apartment on the third floor. The complex is home mostly to senior citizens.
When contacted by The Telegram, a woman on behalf of Maplewood’s building management said they weren’t commenting about what happened.
When asked what residents should do if they need to access their homes and belongings, she said they should call (709) 579-7573.
As a result of the fire, five tenants were taken to hospital with smoke inhalation and two were listed in critical condition.
There is substantial damage to the unit where the fire occurred and smoke damage in other areas of the building.
Not long after the fire was reported, emergency responses kicked in from the Red Cross, City of St. John’s and the provincial government.
Metrobus was on the scene as firefighters and paramedics helped residents onto a bus where Red Cross volunteers were waiting to comfort them and assess their needs.
More than 100 tenants were taken to city hall where they were given food and registered in the event family and friends were trying to find them.
A spokesman for the RNC said the building will remain inaccessible until the investigation wraps up but he couldn’t say when that will be.
Meanwhile, Tompkins said most of the displaced residents found accommodations with family and friends but the ones who did not will be taken care of.
“We helped 50 last night who had nowhere to go, so we put them up in hotels in the city,” said Tompkins.
“It’s an ongoing assessment, but it is our understanding those people we assisted we will provide assistance again tonight because it doesn’t look like they will be in a position to head back to the building today,” he said.
Some residents at the scene Wednesday told The Telegram they believed the fire started in an electric recliner. However, the RNC said that has not been determined and at this point is nothing more than speculation.
An apartment complex in St. John’s caught fire Wednesday, and five residents were taken to hospital with smoke inhalation.
St. John’s Regional Fire Department Supt. Don Byrne said two seniors were listed in critical condition.
Around 4 p.m, a fire broke out in a third-floor apartment of Maplewood Place on Shaw Street. Smoke filled the neighbourhood just as heavy snow kicked in from forecasted weather. Flames could be seen leaping from a third-floor apartment window.
The apartment building isn’t an assisted-living complex, but the tenants are mostly seniors and elderly people.
Fred Clements is a resident who lives on the same floor as the apartment that caught fire.
He was speaking with another man in a lobby when the fire broke out.
“We heard somebody singing out, ‘Help. Help,’” Clements said outside as he watched the fire.
Clements said he and the other man started walking down the hall toward the apartment door where they heard a man calling for assistance.
The man calling for help opened his apartment door as they approached.
”Then I seen smoke. There was only a small bit. But when he opened that door, there was more than smoke. I seen fire,” Clements said.
The man with Clements grabbed a fire extinguisher off the hallway wall and they tried to douse the flames.
“I was in the apartment. I seen the fire in the apartment even,” Clements said. “But I couldn’t breathe. I had to get out.”
All three men got out safely, as did the other people living in the multisectional, multilevel complex.
Residents gathered in the main lobby and also at the bottom of stairwells at other parts of the complex that had doors leading outside.
Most of the elderly were ill-dressed for the deteriorating weather as the snowfall increased. Many looked cold and frightened.
Fire hoses snaked through the parking lot and firefighters tackled the side of the building ablaze.
Relatives of people living in the apartments started to show up looking for their family members and helped them out through the maze of emergency vehicles and equipment.
Some of the people had severe mobility issues — using walkers or wheelchairs — and were carried out by firefighters, family or good samaritans. Several metrobuses arrived to take the people who didn’t have somebody coming to pick them up away from the scene and to St. John’s City Hall to warm up.
Although the buses were just at the end of the building’s driveway, it took a lot of care and time to get some people over the slippery pavement and fire hoses to the waiting ride. Paramedics wrapped blankets around people as they made their way to safety.
Irma Sharpe, who lives across from the apartment where the fire started, was waiting outside the main foyer with other residents. She said she was coming out of her apartment when the fire alarms went off. She also heard the man in the apartment across the hall from her calling for help and was speaking with him after he got safely to the lobby.
“He said the chair caught on fire,” she said, explaining that it was a power recliner with electronic controls.
Several other people near Sharpe said the man told them the same thing — that his chair had caught on fire.
There was no official word from the fire department on the cause. Several people were treated on site for smoke inhalation and several others were taken to hospital.