Cigarette stubbed out in flower pot cause of major fire in downtown Montreal

A major fire that began on a rooftop terrasse in a building at the corner of Ste-Catherine and Berri streets in downtown Montreal caused serious damage to the offices of Le Devoir, but the newspaper vows to publish Tuesday.

Fire in office building at corner of Ste-Catherine and Berri streets forces evacuation of Le Devoir newspaper

The fire at the corner of Berri and Sainte-Catherine streets forced firefighters carry out evacuations. (Radio-Canada)

Big flames and plumes of black smoke billowing from the roof of an office building set off evacuation orders and a four-alarm fire in downtown Montreal.

About 100 firefighters were called to the corner of Berri and Sainte-Catherine streets, in the 11-storey building that houses the French-language newspaper Le Devoir.

The fire broke out sometime before 5:40 p.m. Firefighters managed to get it under control about an hour and a half later.

"It started in the roof of 1265 Berri Street and spread to the neighbouring building," said David Shelton, operations chief for the Montreal fire service.
The fire produced huge plumes of smoke in the sky of downtown Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

The operations chief told CBC that the cause of the fire was a cigarette left to smolder in a flower pot on the rooftop terrasse.

Le Devoir's editor-in-chief Brian Myles confirmed the fire started on the roof.

"A fire broke [out] on a wooden structure, a terrasse, that was installed on the rooftop. We could actually see the structure burning and then the flames rapidly caught on the roof and the inside roof," he said.

Newspaper to publish Tuesday

All the employees made it out safely, and Myles vows Le Devoir will publish an edition of the paper Tuesday morning.

"The most important thing for us is that our people are safe, and they are trying working like hell to deliver the news tomorrow, including coverage of this. We're going to cover our own drama and do it well."

Employees moved their operations to a secret location, which the paper uses as a backup in the event of an emergency.

Myles said if it's not possible to put out a paper edition, Le Devoir will still publish online.
Le Devoir's editor-in-chief Brian Myles says all the employees got out safely and they are 'working like hell' to put out an edition Tuesday morning. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

"It's a no-sleep night and at the end of the day, I'll buy the pizza and a beer for the staff because they'll do it — they'll deliver the news." 

Triumph on the newsstands

Just after 10 p.m., Le Devoir sent out a tweet saying that the paper was off to the presses.

"It's probably the edition I'm proudest of because it was done under harsh conditions," Myles told CBC Montreal's Daybreak Tuesday morning.

"We succeeded, we had to overcome great adversity and it was very special to cover our own crisis, to be part of it, and try to get beyond it, and we did all three."

He said the damage is mainly due to smoke and water in some places, and it's unclear when they will be able to return, but the servers are in tact.

Journalists will work out of UQAM's communications department in order to produce stories for Wednesday's edition.

With files from CBC reporter Kate McKenna