Corktown-area encampment fire leaves 1 dead

District Chief Stephen Powell said a tent and wooden structure caught fire in the Adelaide Street East and Power Street-area around 6 a.m. Right now, it’s unclear how the blaze started.

Toronto Fire says blaze broke out around 6 a.m.

One man is dead after a fire broke out at this encampment in the city's Corktown neighbourhood early Wednesday. (Christopher Mulligan/CBC)

A man is dead after a fire broke out at an encampment in the Corktown area, Toronto paramedics confirm.

Toronto fire District Chief Stephen Powell said a tent and wooden structure caught fire in Orphan's Green Park, in the area of Adelaide Street East and Power Street, around 6 a.m.

It's unclear what started the fire that engulfed the makeshift structure, but officials confirmed one man was inside the shelter at the time.

The man's identity has not been released, but a forensics team is at the site.

People walking their dogs in the area said the encampments have been set up in Orphans Park for months now. Fabian Viani, a construction worker in the area, captured images of the shelter on fire as well as the aftermath.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire. This angle of the scene was captured by construction worker Fabian Viani. (Fabian Viani)

As of last December, Toronto has seen more than 240 fires at encampments. 

Toronto Fire and the Ontario Fire Marshal are investigating. Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, currently acting as the city's head of emergency management during the COVID-19 pandemic, has repeatedly warned the fires would eventually claim someone's life.

At a city hall briefing on Wednesday, Pegg extended his condolences to the family and friends of the person who died.

"Unfortunately, during the course of fighting this fire, one male occupant was located inside the remains of this small wooden structure. Sadly, he was pronounced dead at the scene," Pegg said.

"On behalf of all of us, I extend my heartfelt condolences."

Acting Toronto Fire Chief Jim Jessop told reporters near the scene that public education staff from the fire department went to the location three times to provide fire safety advice.

"Our message has been clear and will continue to be clear: this type of living arrangement outside is not safe," Jessop said.

Jessop added that Toronto Fire has pinpointed the nearest hydrants to all known encampments in Toronto and places to park its emergency vehicles in case of fire.

He said this "preplanning" was done last year out of concern about the possibility of fires in encampments.

Mary-Anne Bedard, general manager of the city's Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, said the city's Streets to Home staff were at the encampment in Orphan's Green Park at about 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday "attempting to engage" with the people who were staying there.

"Unfortunately, they were not able to get a response, even though they were offering support to come inside as well as access to blankets and sleeping bags if they wanted to remain outside," she said.

Bedard said there was space in the city's shelter system on Tuesday night.

"The issues of homelessness are always very complicated, especially the issues of people who stay in encampments," she said.