Sussex fire guts downtown businesses, apartments

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of a fire that ripped through an historic stretch of downtown Sussex Tuesday night.

Investigation into cause underway

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of a fire that ripped through an historic stretch of downtown Sussex Tuesday night.

Two buildings on Broad Street were destroyed, along with the four businesses, several apartments and office space they housed, said Fire Chief Bill Wannamaker.

A Chinese restaurant, Soap Works, outdoor store and cafe were burned out.

No one was injured, but several people have been left temporarily homeless.

One of the buildings, which dated back to the 19th century, was bulldozed to keep the fire from spreading.

"It's been a major component of our streetscape for decades and standing there watching last night was hard to take," said Mayor Marc Thorne, who was one of about 100 people who gathered at the scene.

"No one was immune to those emotions. As I looked around the crowd, you could see it. I mean, just the sense of overwhelming loss that people were experiencing — and disbelief."

Artist Andrew Giffin, who rented space to paint a series of battle scenes commissioned by the military museum in Oromocto, lost all of his work.

Giffin had been working on the murals for months. Some of his canvases were as large as eight by 20 feet.

"We rushed down there, and I was in a panic, obviously. I went rushing up to the line they have taped off, and you know it's a weird sensation because you almost feel like you have a privilege to go in there.

Sussex residents watch firefighters battle a major fire on Broad Street on Tuesday evening. (Trish Young/Facebook)

"The police stopped me, and the firefighters stopped me immediately and said 'What's up?' And I told him what I was after, and he said 'No, I'm sorry, you cannot get in those buildings,'" Giffin said.

"With the rain coming down and the smoke rising from the cinders and these piles of debris — because the building had to be reduced to rubble to keep fire from spreading to the adjoining building —  so there is two big piles of rubble on the street and I couldn't help but think, under the rubble are these two sonotubes with four beautiful canvases wrapped around them ready to be installed," he said.

Still, Giffin said his loss pales in comparison to the town's.

"You know, that was our historical character of the town, right there on the street that's been devastated."

The fire started around 10 p.m. and flames were shooting out of the structure when crews arrived.

About 20 firefighters from Sussex and another 10 from neighbouring Penobsquis were on the scene into the early morning, struggling to keep the fire under control.

Fire officials believe the fire started at the back of the structure then spread to the rooftops.

Crews were able to save a nearby gym.

Dan Bedell, a spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross in Atlantic Canada, described the fire as "significant" in a Twitter message.

Bedell said the Red Cross was helping four people but it did not need to provide emergency shelter to those individuals.