Nfld. & Labrador

Froude Avenue residents not in danger from outdated water lines, city councillor says after fire

Officials are downplaying reported problems after a fire left 35 people without homes Monday night.

Fire destroyed eight apartments; 35 people from 13 families now homeless

One of three structures destroyed by fire Monday evening. Twenty tenants have been permanently displaced as a result. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The residents of Froude Avenue have no reason to be worried following reports of water supply issues hampering firefighter's efforts on Monday night, says St. John's Coun. Danny Breen.

"No. They shouldn't," he responded when asked if the residents should have concerns about their safety.

In total, 36 units in the low-income complex operated by Newfoundland and Labrador Housing were affected by Monday's fire.

Here's the breakdown of the damage:

  • 20 people have been permanently displaced;
  • Eight units were completely destroyed; 
  • 16 units suffered smoke and/or water damage;
  • Four units have heavy smoke damage and may take a week to refurbish before residents can return;
  • Some units have been affected but residents have been able to return.

Firefighters arrived on scene at the flaming apartment complex near Mundy Pond in the west end of St. John's just after 6 p.m. They were met with a challenge — the underground water line was old and outdated, leaving them with little water to fight the flames.

There is one line going into the street from Blackmarsh Road, looping around to each hydrant. As a result, when one hydrant is used, there is little or no water reaching the others.

A supply tanker was called in, giving them 2,000 litres of water. That supply was empty within two minutes.

Residents question St. John's readiness in wake of fire

4 years ago
1:27
Residents of Froude Avenue are angry over a lack of water pressure in the area during a massive fire Monday 1:27

One of the early crews on scene made its way inside the building, but realized the roof was burning bright — a sure sign to leave the premises.

They went into a defensive mode and changed their strategy to protect the surrounding buildings.

I have never seen any decision made at city council… that is any way impacted by the people living in this area- Coun. Danny Breen

On Tuesday, St. John's Regional Fire Department Chief Jerry Peach told media the supply truck was standard protocol, not necessarily brought in because of the water supply.

The water lines were not a contributing factor to the loss of the building, he said.

"With a fire of that magnitude, you have to take into account that it takes a very unusual amount of water and truck power to put that kind of a fire down."

It is unclear where or how the fire started. As of Tuesday afternoon, firefighters were still on scene battling hot spots.

Breen: nothing to do with low-income status

Over the next two years, the city plans to replace 6,000 metres of water lines, Breen said.

On Monday night, some onlookers said the home was left to burn because it was a low-income complex. One man, who lived inside the building, said the neighbourhood had a "notorious" reputation.

With a firm voice, Breen denied those claims.

"I have never seen any decision made at city council … that is any way impacted by the people living in this area," he said. 

"These decisions are based on our engineering staff, who make the best use of the funds available for the city to upgrade the infrastructure according to their analysis and their evaluation."

Breen said the loop issue is something the city has been trying to fix in various parts of town over the last several years as part of its 10-year capital works program.

He said there still are areas that haven't been fully upgraded but wouldn't comment on where the Froude Avenue area falls on that list.

Displaced tenants

All of the 35 tenants who had their apartments damaged or destroyed Monday night are now staying in hotels or with family or friends.

Sherry Gambin-Walsh, the minister responsible for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, said a particular challenge is the fact that some of them are wheelchair users or have other disabilities that require special medication or equipment.

The Canadian Red Cross says 12 apartment units in three different buildings were destroyed in the fire. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

She said staff were on scene late into the evening to ensure all the residents were set up at least temporarily, and will continue work to find them a permanent place to stay.

"It was quite the scene, and people are in shock this morning, waking up and realizing they have nothing left."

Gambin-Walsh said she has no concerns about the buildings that burned not being up to code, as they are routinely inspected.

While she has heard about problems with water pressure in the area, she says she will wait for an official report and adds she's only concerned now with the people who lost their apartments.

"It's a busy day but the No. 1 priority today is the tenants that are displaced," she said.

Fire destroys apartments on Froude Avenue

4 years ago
1:25
Fire rips through building near Mundy Pond in St. John's. 1:25

With files from Geoff Bartlett, Ryan Cooke and Terry Roberts

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