Ontario Fire Marshal continues investigation into Whitby construction site fire
Ontario Fire Marshal continues investigation into Whitby construction site fire
August 29, 2017
Article by: Parvaneh Pessian

Damage estimate difficult to determine as townhomes were under development

Whitby Fire Aftermath

WHITBY -- Whitby fire officials had a look of the aftermath of a massive fire that destroyed two blocks of townhomes under construction in north Whitby Thursday evening, Aug. 24. When firefighters arrived at Kenneth Hobbs Drive and Civic Centre Drive, flames were shooting 100 feet in the air. On Friday morning the area around the fire scene was shut down to traffic as local residents surveyed the damage. August 25, 2017. - Ron Pietroniro / Metroland

WHITBY — The Office of the Fire Marshal continues to probe the cause of a massive blaze that tore through a townhouse complex under construction in Whitby last Thursday.
Whitby fire and emergency services got the call shortly after 6 p.m. Aug. 24 regarding a fire in the area of Kenneth Hobbs Avenue and Civic Centre Drive, located near
Garden Street and Rossland Road East. Fourteen townhomes in total were destroyed.
“The OFM conducted the investigation on scene already on Friday, and I just spoke to him this morning and now they’re in the interview (phase), continuing to gather more information from people,” said Whitby fire Chief Dave Speed on Monday.
He added that an estimate on damages is difficult to ascertain as the homes were under development at the time.
“There were 14 units and each of the units when they’re sold are about $500,000, but obviously they were only framed so I don’t know what the value of that would be.”
The fire spread rapidly and radiated intense heat, according to onlookers. All Whitby fire crews and aerial trucks from Ajax and Oshawa were needed to extinguish the flames that were shooting 100 feet in the air by the time firefighters arrived. Some residents living in the area were forced to evacuate when heat began melting vinyl siding on their homes but were allowed to return shortly after. There were no injuries.
Marj Herriott, who lives in an adjacent townhouse complex, said she heard sirens so she stuck her head out to take a look and saw a thick cloud of black smoke.
“I thought it was our complex that was on fire so I came running out only to find that it was this,” she said, referring to the large construction site where work began by Highmark Homes this past spring to build 50 townhomes.
“I came out at the entrance down on Kenneth Hobbs and the heat was incredible. I couldn’t believe the heat (from) that far away.”
Mike Fernlund, another resident of the area, was taking a nap when he heard the fire trucks and was one of the first to witness how quickly the exposed wood on the homes fed the fire.
“Those flames were as high as those houses,” he said. “I came out the front door here to see and it was so hot, I had to close the door immediately. I’m surprised nothing melted out here.”
Spencer Redhead had just arrived home from work when he came across the chaotic scene.
“It was just total devastation,” he said. “There were flames everywhere; everything was engulfed and it was just really hot.”
Mitch and Vinnie Cusma noticed the smoke while walking two kilometres away on Taunton and Garden and then made their way to the neighbourhood, which they normally pass on their way to the Whitby Civic Recreation Complex.
“I couldn’t believe it. That’s scary when you see something like that,” said Vinnie.
“It’s amazing how a fire can do so much damage,” his wife added.
With the amount of people who observed the fire at that time of day, Chief Speed said he hopes it helped reinforce some important fire safety messages.
“This fire grew very quickly and that’s what can also happen in your home so it’s important to be prepared and have working smoke alarms, test them and really to have a home fire escape plan prepared and practise,” he said.
"When this does happen, you’ve only got one to two minutes to get out safely (so) you'd better know what you’re doing."