Toronto

He lost almost everything in the Gosford Blvd. fire — but says he's 'blessed'

David Myers watched as his apartment and everything in it went up in flames. Despite that, he says he's blessed to have survived. While Myers made his escape in time, another person wasn't so lucky.

David Myers watched his 7th-floor apartment burn, but what he saw next will stay with him forever

David Myers watched as his apartment and everything in it went up in flames. (James Morrison/CBC)

David Myers didn't have time.

When he saw flames shooting out from the window of the apartment unit above him early Friday evening, he grabbed his backpack, put on his jacket and bolted outside with only the clothes on this back. Fire crews would be able to douse the fire quickly, he thought, and his apartment would be alright.

Instead, he watched with other residents as the blaze grew, spreading from the eighth floor upward through the 15-storey high rise at Jane Street and Steeles Avenue West.

As the fire raged on, Myers watched as explosions went off in unit 808, 809, 708 and then his own unit.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I just stood there like, 'Everything I have is gone.'"

"It was kind of gut-wrenching. It was surreal... I really can't find the words to explain what happened," he said. "It was like watching my life go up in flames."

Residents saw man collapse

But what happened next is forever seared into his memory. As the minutes passed with Myers and other residents standing in the freezing cold watching the building burn, a man appeared on the balcony of the floor above Myers's unit.

"He was waving his hands in the air, 'Help me, help me, help me!'" Myers recounted to CBC News. 
Toronto firefighters are battling a fire near Jane and Finch where a report of children were stuck on a balcony. 0:35

"I guess he was just overwhelmed because when he came out of his unit, his unit was already engulfed in flames."

Other residents shouted for the man to jump, or try to climb over to the next balcony, he recalled. At the same time, some people grabbed mattresses, placing them onto the lawn to break the man's fall. 

But instead of jumping, Myers says, the man collapsed on the balcony surrounded by fire. 

For a brief moment, residents were hopeful. The man appeared to get back up and once again waved his hands in the air, yelling for help. But before he could be rescued, he collapsed again.

Victim's identity hasn't been released

Friday night, much of the city was relieved to hear the devastating five-alarm fire had been extinguished without any casualties. In the early hours of Saturday morning, however, officials made a grim discovery: a body on the balcony of unit 808 — the same unit where the blaze originated. 

The victim's identity hasn't been released. Six other people were injured in the fire, one of them seriously. That person's condition was later upgraded to stable.

Toronto Fire Deputy Chief Tony Bavota said after the discovery there had been no reports of anyone missing or unaccounted for during the fire, nor did the service receive any reports of someone on a balcony yelling for help.

Myers is now one of about 700 residents displaced by the fire, and like many others has no idea what comes next for him.

Samantha Beech is another such resident.

Beech lived in unit 908, directly above the one where the flames first broke out. She'd been sitting on her bed with her 19-month-old when she heard an alarm going off. She ignored it at first, thinking someone might have set it off with their cooking.

When the alarm wouldn't stop, she got up and had a look around. What she saw at her window was unmistakable: thick black smoke and flames.

"My son grabbed my daughter and we ran," she said.

Displaced resident Samantha Beech says is still traumatized because of the fire. (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC)

'God, please save us'

"It was terrifying. I was like, 'God, please save us,' because it was a very scary thing to see, especially when you have kids there. I was trembling. Even now my legs are still shaking from that night. I'm really traumatized." 

On Saturday, Beech returned to her apartment hopeful for anything that might be salvaged. 

"I'm lucky to be alive right now because it was so close," Beach told CBC News. "And I'm very sorry for the neighbour that didn't make it."

Myers too has no idea yet if any of his most treasured belongings can be recovered: not his photo albums, the keepsakes his brother gave him before he died of cancer 15 years ago, heirlooms, his prized comic book collection. 

But despite all of that possibly being gone, he says he's "blessed."

As the flames burned, he says his phone rang again and again — friends, former co-workers, family members calling to ask if he was alright.

'I leave it in God's hands'

"What really touched me was people calling me and asking me, like, 'Are you OK? Can I help you? I'm praying for you. Do you need somewhere to stay?'"

"People always say you never know who your friends are until... That's what I'm going to take out of this tragedy." 
The city says 235 Gosford Blvd. is privately-owned and the property management company is working with the appropriate authorities, engineers and restoration experts to assess damage to the building and to restore the building as quickly as possible. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

For now, he's staying with family not far from the building. His sister has launched a GoFundMe for Myers, who lost his job about three months ago. He says his focus isn't on money, saying what's most important to him is what can't be replaced. 

His hope is that he can salvage anything of his brother — photos, his watch, ring, the things that were most dear to him.

As for what happens now, he says: "Honestly I don't know. I just... I leave it in God's hands."

With files from Muriel Draaisma