Investigators to probe fire at heritage home once engineers survey blackened remains
House is 'one of the last few of the Jarvis mansions left on this strip,' Heritage Toronto says
The Ontario Fire Marshal's office will investigate a major fire at a Toronto heritage house after engineers finish surveying the blackened remains of the building to determine whether anything can be salvaged, an official says.
Engineers are expected at the two-storey historic structure at 314 Jarvis St., south of Carlton Street, on Wednesday, following a two-alarm fire that ripped through the vacant house late Sunday into Monday. The house was built in 1865.
No injuries have been reported, but firefighters have not yet thoroughly searched the premises. Toronto's Fire Chief Matthew Pegg has said the fire is considered suspicious.
Andrea Gaynor, acting assistant supervisor of fire investigation services for the Fire Marshal's office, said on Tuesday that investigators have not been able to begin their probe because the building is not structurally sound.
The ceiling, walls and floors have collapsed, she said. The property is still behind Toronto police tape.
"We've had a collapse of the ceiling. The walls have collapsed into the structure. All that needs to be removed for us to go in," Gaynor said.
"It looks like there are step fractures in the brick and we need engineers to come here tomorrow to determine if it's sound for us to go in, or if we have to shore up with scaffolding, or how we're going to accomplish that. If anything can be recovered, we will try to assist in that process."
Historic house may have to be demolished
Heavy equipment was brought to house on Tuesday and crews are expected to bring more on Wednesday to enable engineers to get an aerial view, she added.
"They will determine from an engineering standpoint whether anything can be recovered, or kept for later one, or whether the building has to come down. We're not sure at this point," Gaynor said.
Toronto firefighters were first alerted on Sunday at about 11:45 p.m., according to Capt. David Eckerman, spokesperson for Toronto Fire Services.
The bulk of the fire was knocked down shortly after 12:30 p.m., but it was fully not extinguished until Monday. A fire watch at the property ended at 8:50 a.m. on Tuesday.
Gaynor said investigators will determine whether the fire was intentional or accidental and she noted there was graffiti on the outside walls. "We do have to consider all possibilities," she said.
Toronto Fire has yet to confirm the exact number of fires at the home. Gaynor said the house has been rebuilt after each one. A blaze in 2016 gutted the building.
Kevin Shaw, platoon chief for Toronto Fire Services, has told CBC Toronto that another broke out a month and half ago, causing damage to the building's floors.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said the building was secure, it had no electricity and no water, and she thinks the fire may have been started by squatters.
She said the latest property owner, who took possession at the start of the year, found that the house was "filled" with squatters and they were causing harm to the house. No official cause of the fire has been determined.
"It would not be surprising if, unfortunately, the fire was set by those individuals," she said.
'It is a very sad day for Heritage Toronto'
Camille Begin, manager of plaques and public education for Heritage Toronto, said Jarvis Street across from Allan Gardens was a "street of mansions" for wealthy Toronto residents in 19th century. It was not a "standalone" house, as it is now, and was built by and for the Sheard family.
"It is a very sad day for Heritage Toronto," she said. "It's one of the last few of the Jarvis mansions left on this strip."
Begin said the house allows residents to see the "evolution of the city" in this one block. It is part of a pocket of history, she said.
Heritage homes are vulnerable because they are often made of wood and are complicated to maintain, and in this case, the house was left empty and more or less abandoned, she said.
"This is what can happen," she said. "It's not surprising."