Toys collected for Christmas destroyed in fire at home of West Island Assistance Fund
Montreal firefighters say nobody was hurt in fire at the Pierrefonds building, but damage is extensive
Community groups in Montreal's West Island are planning an emergency meeting Tuesday, to assess what can be done after fire ripped through the building of the West Island Assistance Fund Monday.
The fire caused extensive damage to the two-storey structure and everything inside — including toys collected for distribution during the holidays.
Located in the Montreal borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, the West Island Assistance Fund has been helping families and individuals in need for more than 50 years.
It has an annual tradition collecting hundreds of new toys for Christmas — toys that are donated by businesses and individuals throughout the year. The toys are then gifted to about 100 families in need, with each kid getting around seven toys.
The toys were stored in the building as staff readied to distribute them next week. Organizers say the toys won't be gifted this year because all the toys were lost in the fire.
"It's a terrible day for the history of our community," borough Mayor Jim Beis told CBC News. "We will do whatever we can to try to rebuild from this and help this association continue in the future."
The building is located on Centre Commercial Street, right next door to a fire station.
The Montreal fire department says it is not yet clear how the fire started. It broke out around 2:15 p.m., and the building was immediately evacuated, according to Jean-François Larente, fire prevention chief for the West Island.
The fire spread quickly, engulfing the structure in flames and sending smoke billowing into the air. Nobody was hurt, Larente said.
The fire was under control by 5 p.m., but Larente said firefighters won't be able to investigate the cause until the flames are extinguished.
Community comes together
Along with the West Island Fund's offices, its thrift store, which offered clothing and other goods at discount prices to people in need, was also destroyed, said Beis.
The food bank is at a separate location and was spared, but there is concern about the youth centre next door. It abuts the organization's offices and will have to be inspected for damage, the borough mayor said.
"We will work with our community and West Island partners to get the organization back on its feet as soon as possible," said Beis in a statement.
He said the borough will provide space in a municipal building for the organization to use for the time being.
Among the fund's partnering organizations is West Island Community Shares. Its executive director, Sophie McCann, said the fire couldn't have come at a worse time.
McCann said community groups are coming together to ensure families in the area are continuing to get services "so that they can enjoy the holiday."
"It's Christmas coming up, and it is a very busy time of year for all the food banks in the West Island," she said.