Fires at 280 Rochester St. worry residents in highrise building

Residents of a highrise Ottawa Community Housing apartment building say they're afraid tragedy could strike after repeated fires in the basement garbage room in recent months.

Arson investigation underway, says fire department

Resident Diane Cianci says the fires have been occurring on a regular basis for weeks. (CBC News)

Residents of a highrise Ottawa Community Housing apartment building say they're afraid tragedy could strike after repeated fires in the basement garbage room in recent months.

Petr Mauer, whose mother lives in the building, says he's worried about her safety. (CBC News)

The Rochester Tower at 280 Rochester St., between Gladstone Avenue and Balsam Street in Centretown, has been dealing with fires about once every one or two weeks, residents say.

"It's practically on a regular basis. Nobody knows what's going on, and everybody's doing as much as they can, but they can't seem to find the person that's doing it," said Diane Cianci, who has lived in the building for 10 to 12 years.

"And we're afraid the seniors in here, it might be serious, and then they're going to be stuck. It could turn worse, and that's what we're concerned about."

Ottawa Community Housing says there has been an increase in fire incidents at 280 Rochester St. (CBC News)

Hashim Ayoubi, who also lives in the building, is also concerned.

"Somebody's crazy. If he is doing it in the [garbage] chutes now, he may do it in some other place. They have to find out, soon, who's doing it," Ayoubi said.

'It could get out of control'

Petr Mauer's mother lives in the 22-storey building and he said he's worried about her.

Ottawa Community Housing CEO Stéphane Giguère would not say when the fires started or how many have occurred. (CBC News)

"If it was just a false alarm it would just be really annoying, but there's an actual fire that happens and it's been going on for two months at least — every week or so, apparently — and it's just really concerning," Mauer said.

"They don't seem to be doing much about it. ... My mom's an elderly person, she lives here, and I'm concerned for her safety. Smoke can be deadly, it could get out of control and get worse one day, so they should do a bit more than just taking the fire out and going home."

Mauer said he hopes investigators find out more soon.

Active arson investigation

Ottawa Fire Services has responded to six fires at 280 Rochester St. in the past four months — an "unusual" number, said Sean Tracey, acting deputy fire chief.

The building is retrofitted with sprinklers — including the garbage room — and surveillance cameras have been installed to try to capture how the fires are being started, Tracey said.

An active arson investigation is also underway, and the fire department is working with both Ottawa Community Housing and Ottawa police, said Tracey.

Six fires in four months at 280 Rochester St. is an "unusual" number, said Ottawa Fire Services acting deputy fire chief Sean Tracey. (CBC)

"This could just be as simple as careless discarding of smoking materials, to other causal factors." Tracey said.

"We want to assure the residents that we are indeed active, and we have been active on this project since the middle of January."

The building is also up to fire code, he added.

'We've seen an increase'

Ottawa Community Housing CEO Stéphane Giguère said there has been an increase in fire incidents and that both the fire department and Ottawa police are investigating.

He would not give CBC News more detailed information about how many fires have occurred or when they started.

"Obviously we share the same concerns of our tenants ... and again, anything that can be done from a safety point of view, we'll ensure it. At the same time, because it's under investigation, we have to wait for the results of the investigation," Giguère said.