New Brunswick

Man dies in vacant house fire in downtown Moncton

One person is dead and a vacant home has been badly damaged after an early morning fire on Gordon Street in downtown Moncton Thursday.

Neighbour and fire chief believe victim was homeless

A 55-year-old man is dead and a vacant home has been badly damaged after an early morning fire on Gordon Street in downtown Moncton Thursday.

Platoon Chief Dennis Dollemont says it was shortly after 3 a.m when the call came in.

He describes the home as a 2½ storey single family dwelling that had no furniture inside.

Dollemont says the cause of the fire is unclear and the department is investigating along with Codiac RCMP.

In a news release, RCMP say an officer on patrol noticed smoke coming from the home on the corner of Gordon and Elm streets.

Police gained entry to the home but had to retreat because of the smoke.

Fire crews battled the flames coming from the attic.

RCMP say firefighters advised them at 4:20 a.m. that they had discovered the body of a man inside.

Police say an autopsy will be performed on Thursday. The identity of the victim has not been released.

Number of homeless in vacant buildings on rise

Josh Kindred, who lives next door to the building that burned, says he knew the man who died in the fire. He says he was homeless.

"I started to come downstairs and get all dressed up to go out and video tape the fire and then when I got out there, that's when I realized that, 'Oh wait there are people in there.'"

"I saw him the other day, he was collecting bottles and digging through cans and stuff and I know that he has been sleeping in there all summer," Kindred said.

"Whether he was down and out, well, that was someone's loved one and there's hurting family out there, you know? It's just a sad sad thing."

Moncton Fire Chief Eric Arsenault says it was a difficult situation and firefighters weren't able to reach the man for 45 minutes because of the fire and the fact that the house was boarded up.

"They attempted both from the front and the rear of the building and they were unsuccessful," he said. "We did firefighting operations from the outside. Until we were able to get the majority of the fire knocked down."

Arsenault says the number of homeless people living in vacant buildings in Moncton is increasing and he is worried that as the weather gets colder, more fires will break out as people try to stay warm.

"Our main concern is that people, because of being homeless and needing shelter, will use these abandoned buildings," he said.

"They'll use dangerous methods to heat themselves. I don't know if that's the case in this one here. Our investigators are on scene here. First and foremost we're trying to find out where the fire started, then what actually caused it."

The fire department plans to put together a list of vacant buildings in the city with the aim of making sure they're boarded up properly, said Arsenault.

But he says it's the owners who really need to ensure their buildings are secured to help prevent another tragedy.

Kindred also believes there are too many homeless people living in abandoned buildings in Moncton and too many people like him who are living in unsafe or substandard apartments in the downtown.

The Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee says 720 people in Greater Moncton were homeless in 2012. That is the number of people who stayed in shelters, but experts say the true number is even higher.