Building fire at 'cursed' downtown intersection treated as suspicious

Investigators say a building fire that caused around $4 million in damage to a building at Bank and Somerset streets appears to be suspicious.
The building that caught fire houses Gabriel Pizza and other restaurants at street level. It is across the street from a building that partially collapsed last October. ((CBC))
Investigators say a building fire that caused around $4 million in damage to a building at Bank and Somerset streets appears to be suspicious.

The fire broke out shortly after 2 a.m. in the four-storey commercial building on the northeast corner of the intersection, which has already faced more than its share of misfortunes in the past year.

The blaze caused an estimated $2 million damage to the building and another $2 million to the building's contents after it broke out, but no one was injured, Ottawa Fire Services reported.

Fire platoon Chief Larry King said flames tore through the second and fourth floors, and it took 68 firefighters and 16 trucks about two hours to put them out. He added that the fact that it was a concrete building made it easier to contain the fire.

Firefighters smashed the windows on the second, third and fourth floors on the south and east side of the building to let some smoke out.

A preliminary probe by fire crews turned up suspicious indications, Ottawa Fire Services investigator Frank Donati said.

He said he has notified the Ottawa police arson section, and the Ontario fire marshal's office is also investigating, as it does for all fires that cause more than $500,000 damage.

The building houses about a dozen tenants including Prime Corp, a large real estate brokerage headed by Sam Firestone, the High Commission for Bangladesh and several street-level restaurants such as Gabriel Pizza that have already suffered many hardships over the past year.

Gabriel Pizza owner Efie Gattas said she panicked when she received a call about the fire but was relieved that the whole building didn't come down. ((CBC))

"This corner is cursed," said Efie Gattas, owner of Gabriel Pizza. "What can I say? I mean, it's been horrible — one thing after the other."

Last October, Somerset House, the building across the street, partially collapsed. That shut the intersection down for eight weeks. This summer, Bank Street north of Somerset has been closed for road and sewer work, driving away business.

And then Gattas received a call early Monday morning.

"I got all panicky and I came here without even a jacket — I froze to death. And when I saw this, I was devastated," she recalled. "But thank God, the whole building didn't go down."

Gattas said she has been told she can return to the building Monday evening. However, she said her restaurant has suffered some smoke damage and its existing inventory will need to be thrown out before it can reopen for business.