Downtown fire 'just broke my heart', says Oxfam official

Bill Hynd, Oxfam's representative in Newfoundland and Labrador, says more than 40 years of archives of the non-profit organization's work has been destroyed in a fire that ripped through a block of downtown buildings on Wednesday.

Oxfam building one of several destroyed by fire on Duckworth Street

Shots of the fire continuing on Duckworth Street. Three buildings have been damaged so far 1:56

Oxfam's representative in Newfoundland and Labrador says more than 40 years of archives of the non-profit organization's work were destroyed in a fire that ripped through a block of downtown buildings on Wednesday.

Bill Hynd says more than 40 years of Oxfam's history in Newfoundland and Labrador has been destroyed. (CBC)

"I'm just thinking of all the paperwork and the computers and the files in it. This looks like we're not going to be able to retrieve anything," said Hynd. 

Hynd said he was working at home on Wednesday morning and only found out about the fire when a member of the media called. Hynd said he immediately rushed to Duckworth Street.

Hynd said many groups and activists involved in social justice have worked out of the Oxfam buildling, including politicians St. John's mayoralty candidate Sheilagh O'Leary and provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael.

Hynd said, less than a month ago, a historian from Carleton University in Ottawa visited the building and took pictures for a project on the history of Oxfam in Canada.

"And that's all that's going to be left," Hynd said.

Fire took several hours to control

The fast-moving fire that struck a block of adjoined buildings in downtown St. John's was gradually tamed Wednesday with firefighters struggling over several hours to put it out.

Firefighters from several stations descended on a block of Duckworth Street, just west of Bates Hill, around 10 a.m.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=4994 size=small]

"This fire is typical downtown construction," said Jerry Peach, the deputy chief of the St. John's Regional Fire Department. "There are walls upon walls, roofs upon roofs."

"We opened up one roof and found another one underneath it. The problem with these downtown fires is that they tend to hide out, and it is very difficult for us to get to the seat of the fire."

Flames were visible from three buildings on the street, and smoke from the complex filled a wide section of the downtown area.

No one was reported injured in the blaze, and no pets were harmed, said CBC News reporter Mark Quinn.

It took crews about three hours to say that the fire was being brought under control. At one point, firefighters were pulled out of the buildings to mount an external attack.

The complex includes the Atlantic Canada office of Oxfam Canada, the Food For Thought store, and a space that was being converted for the retailer Our Pleasure.

Among the concerns facing firefighters were propane tanks that had been stored in one of the buildings. The location is used to house hot-dog carts that at night are stationed on the George Street bar strip and along other downtown locations.

Thick smoke from the fire could be seen from far away. At least one smoke alarm was set off on nearby Queen's Road, likely because of the smoke billowing from Duckworth.