Nova Scotia

Halifax fire under control, building gutted

As firefighters manage a smouldering fire in downtown Halifax, attention is now turning to the art that had been stored in the gutted building.

Original negatives by famed N.S. photographer Wallace R. MacAskill were stored in a safe

Firefighters have blaze under control; more than a dozen people forced from their homes 2:17

As firefighters manage a smouldering fire in downtown Halifax, attention is now turning to the art that had been stored in the gutted building.

Firefighters were called in around 8 a.m. local time on Sunday to a fire in a building behind the Staples store, located at 5426 Portland Place, which houses National Art​, RCR Hospitality Group and Ravensberg College. No one was inside the building at the time.

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      Claire Facey, general manager at National Art, a wholesale picture framing company, says a collection of original negatives by famed Nova Scotia photographer Wallace R. MacAskill were stored in a safe at the store.

      "The whole building has collapsed so whether or not they'll find the safe or not I don't know. But yes, our entire inventory is gone. Complete, complete lost," she said.

      Facey says the store also held art belonging to customers that was waiting to be framed.

      "But we are insured," she said.

      Homes evacuated

      Scot Shaffner, the east division fire commander, says a row of townhouses between Portland Place and Cogswell Street was evacuated, driving around 14 people from their homes.

      "The fire won. The building has been completely gutted. The roof has been collapsed," Shaffner said.

      "We have no idea of the amount of chemicals that are present in the smoke ...  it can be really uncomfortable in time. I would really recommend everybody get out of the smoke if you're in."

      Shaffner says firefighters found mattresses stockpiled inside the building, which contributed to the severity of the fire. 

      The fire won. The building has been completely gutted.- Scot Shaffner, fire division commander

      At one point the nearby Staples building was in danger of catching fire and crews put their main hoses on the building to protect it.

      Smoke drifted north from the building for several blocks, coating parts of north-end Halifax in a haze. The smell of smoke could be picked up from blocks away.

      'Smoke just billowed out'

      Witnesses say flames were shooting from the building's roof and windows.

      "I thought it was the gentleman's smokehouse up the hill there but then all of a sudden we started smelling plastic and the smoke just billowed out," said Jeremy Harper, who lives in the neighbourhood. "She's just coming out of the roof big now." 

      Heather Fairbairn lives on Brunswick Street and was woken up by a loud knock on her door. 

      "So I looked out my window and said, 'What's going on?' And he said, 'Get out, get your pets and there's a fire behind you,'" she said. "Thank heavens for insurance."

      She was told her building would be fine.

      David Ballum-Heftka used to be a volunteer firefighter in the Annapolis Valley. This time, he was the one forced out of his home.

      "It's really an odd thing to be told to evacuate your house, because you go in and say, 'What do I grab besides my dog?'" he said.

      "This is a big one for sure ... I couldn't see where [the smoke] was coming from so I figured well, just get out of the house."

      Gottingen Street has since reopened to traffic.

      There is no word on the cause of the fire.

      The Canadian Red Cross is on scene.

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