Firefighters preparing to attack the fire at 448 Cambridge Street South
PHOTO: SCOTT STILLBORN, OTTAWA FIRE SERVICE
By Sue Stefko
Fire ravaged an apartment building at 448 Cambridge Street South on October 6, the third time in the last year that buildings have burned in the Glebe Annex.
Ottawa Fire Services (OFS) were alerted by numerous 911 calls and arrived on scene within three minutes, finding smoke and flames shooting out of two second-storey windows. The fire was quickly extinguished. An unattended pot on the stove was determined to be the cause.
OFS found one injured occupant of the apartment suffering from life-threatening injuries. The crew carried the victim outside and immediately started to treat his burns and give him oxygen. Twelve people were forced out of their apartments. While the OFS felt other units could be repaired and lived in again, much of the one where the fire occurred was destroyed.
Last November 21, just 100 metres away, a fire broke out in the three-unit townhouse complex from 317 to 325 Arthur Lane. That building was also occupied at the time, but this fire was deemed to have been caused by faulty wiring. The fire started in a wall cavity and moved up to the attic space. OFS files note that the tenants had a video of the lights flickering the night before the fire started. That fire displaced five people and the OFS also safely evacuated two cats and a boa constrictor in an aquarium. While no one was hurt, fire and water damages were extensive and the building was deemed uninhabitable. It was torn down and the property was listed for sale this September. The lot is priced at nearly $1.1 million and is described as ripe for development and densification.
Less than two months before that, last September 29, two vacant houses at 269 and 271 Bell Street South caught fire. This time, it was blamed on unsafe activities by vagrants. Unfortunately, unlike on Arthur Lane, those houses were not torn down and their damaged hulks remains. But the property is also for sale for $5.8 million, putting in doubt the site-plan proposal to build 49 rental units on the site. While it’s possible the new owner could continue with the existing site plan, which is still active according to the city, greater density is likely to be proposed for the site.
With so many major fires in such a short time, we grew concerned about what appears to be their increasing prevalence. OFS statistics indicate, however, that the number of fires in the city is only slightly higher year over year, about commensurate with the growth in Ottawa’s population. While there are no exact neighbourhood statistics available, the fire station on Preston and Somerset serves this area, and its calls have actually gone down in 2023, from about six calls a month last year to 4.5 so far this year.
However, these fires demonstrate that it is always important to keep fire safety in mind. An unattended pot on the stove (as in the most recent case) and improperly discarded smoking material are the top two causes of house fires in Ottawa and across Canada. OFS advises to never leave cooking food unattended, keep dish towels away from the stove, turn appliances off when finished cooking, ensure smoke detectors are functional (including regularly replacing batteries) and keep a fire extinguisher within easy reach.
While cigarette butts on couches or bedding used to be a major concern, people now tend to smoke outside more, and OFS sees siding that catches on fire as a larger issue because smokers often discard their butts in the yard or drop them from a balcony. OFS stresses that matches and lighters must be kept out of reach of children and cigarettes must be disposed of in a deep ash tray, not put in potted plants or thrown from a balcony or car window.
This latest fire also highlights another OFS campaign – “Close before you doze.” The simple act of closing your bedroom door at night can be a significant help in keeping fire at bay. Footage taken at 448 Cambridge was used in an Instagram video featuring former Ottawa Redblacks running back Brendan Gillanders, showing the difference between a bedroom with the door closed and one with it open. (https://www.instagram.com/p/CyUCbS5AvnF/?hl=en). The open room was destroyed by the fire, while the other one remained nearly intact.
This latest fire is a sobering reminder of the need to keep both fire prevention and mitigation in mind to stay safe.
Sue Stefko is vice-president of the Glebe Annex Community Association.