Major fire destroys Kahnawake businesses, snarls morning traffic

The Kahnawake Peacekeepers have reopened Highway 138 following a major fire that destroyed a commercial building.

As many as 50 firefighters from neighbouring towns called to Plaza 138 to help douse flames

A number of businesses were destroyed early Thursday when fire tore through a commercial building in Kahnawake. (Submitted by Jeremy White)

The Kahnawake Peacekeepers have called in provincial police technicians to aid in the investigation of a major fire that destroyed a commercial building Thursday morning.

The fire broke out around 3:20 a.m. at a motorcycle store in Plaza 138, according to police.

The plaza also comprises a Wolfco gas station, The 99 Restaurant and Sweety's Homemade Ice Cream shop, among other businesses. 

Wihse Stacey, captain of the Kahnawake Fire Brigade, said the call they received was about a fire in the roof.

Châteauguay resident Brandon Betournay says he placed that call.

He works early hours as a buyer for JS Daoust, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Mercier, and he was on his way back there when he noticed smoke coming from the direction of the gas station.

Major fire destroys Kahnawake businesses (Video submitted by Jeremy White)

6 years ago
Duration 0:27
Dozens of firefighters were called to the scene of a major fire at a plaza in Kahnawake, south of Montreal, Thursday morning. A number of businesses burned to the ground but no one was hurt.

He pulled in and called 911. As he was speaking to the dispatcher, flames burst out through the roof and started to spread out toward the centre of the building.

"You know, to see businesses go up in flames so quick," he said, trailing off briefly.

"Within minutes it was completely engulfed. I feel so sad for the people that work so hard and do their thing, just past the New Year and Christmas and then this happens."

Reinforcements called

By the time local firefighters arrived at the scene, they already knew the building couldn't be saved, Stacey said.

As many as 50 firefighters from Kahnawake, Mercier, Saint-Isidore, Châteauguay and Saint-Rémi were called to help.

There is no water supply in the area, so they needed tankers to come transport water to the scene, Stacey said.

Part of Highway 138 was closed for several hours Thursday morning.

Gas, propane a cause for concern

Kahnawake Peacekeepers remained on the scene Thursday afternoon, as SQ investigators combed through the debris.

There were some concerns about the risk of propane tanks on site exploding, prompting authorities to block access to a roughly five-kilometre stretch of Highway 138 in the area.

Police say the fire never came close to the gas station. Access to the highway reopened just before 11 a.m.

No injuries have been reported. The cause is still unknown.

Family businesses flattened

In a post on Facebook, Jeremy White, whose parents own The 99 Restaurant, said it was a horrible morning for his family.

His uncle owns the ice cream shop in the plaza.

"My poor mother, from a place of pure love and passion, put everything she had into The 99. Just absolutely devastating," he wrote.

"They had amazing food: some of the best ribs ever. The sauce was incredible. The chef would not give out the recipe," said Celine St-Hilaire, a frequent customer of The 99. "It's kind of sad that it's gone now."

Between 12 and 15 people from Kahnawake are out of a job because of the fire, according to Kyle Delisle, CEO of Tewatohnhi'saktha, the Kahnawake Economic Development Commission.

"[We're] trying to work with the businesses to see if we can get them up and running as soon as possible, whether it's rebuilding the site here or finding another spot for them in Kahnawake to reopen," he said. "Making sure that the employees are taken care of."

with files from Steve Rukavina, Pascal Robidas and Ainslie Maclellan