The director of the Fellowship Centre in Kenora, Ont., says it was a “sombre morning” in the community on Monday as it mourned the death of a local man in a fire in the downtown core on Sunday afternoon.
“One of our community members passed away in the fire, so we lit our fire this morning, and we had prayers with everybody outside,” Fellowship Centre director Yvonne Bearbull told CBC News.
The Kenora fire department estimates that around 16 people lost their homes in the fire, based on the number of individuals who had formal rental agreements with the building-owner, fire chief Todd Skene told CBC.
But it’s hard to know the true number of people left homeless, Bearbull added.
“It was a low-income housing unit,” she explained. “Because of the homelessness rate in Kenora, there was a lot of people staying with friends, so it’s really hard to say how many people were actually in the building.”
Fire crews battled the blaze on the 100 block of Main Street South for around 11 hours on Sunday, Skene said.
The three-story building had a clothing store on the main floor and a 12-room rooming house on the upper floors, which contained shared bathrooms and no kitchen facilities, he said.
‘Heart warming’ reactions from community
The Fellowship Centre has been busy since Sunday afternoon as staff kept the doors open to help displaced individuals, Bearbull said.
“I think we had about 15 people staying here last night — not all displaced, of course,” she said.
The centre has also been asking for donations of items such as blankets, clothes and shoes to help those who have been affected by Sunday’s fire.
The response from the community, Bearbull said, has been “encourage and so heart warming.”
“We were here ’til late last night, and when the appeal came, there was people just streaming and cars just pulling up and dropping off everything like … shoes and jackets,” Bearbull explained, adding that there were “people of all ages coming in, visibly upset and wanting to help.”
The Fellowship Centre is now asking the public for donations of backpacks, as well as housing opportunities from anyone who has space available to rent.
“The building was going to close down April 1, so a lot of people have been looking for places and new homes … so we’re hoping some people might be willing to rent out starting on April 1,” she said.
‘Total loss’ of the building
The building on Main Street South is a total loss, Skene said.
By the time crews arrived on Sunday, the fire was “fully involved” with “lots of black smoke,” he added.
They had to fight the fire from outside because it was too hot to enter the building.
They even brought in an excavator to tear off the front of the structure in order to help them reach hot spots and prevent the fire from spreading to nearby buildings.
The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, Skene said, and no other details have been released about the deceased man.
“We are working closely with Ontario Provincial Police, and we have the Fire Marshall’s office currently en route with an investigator from Southern Ontario,” Skene said.
OPP are asking residents to avoid the area Monday to help prevent traffic congestion, as crews will be on the scene for an undetermined amount of time.