Jurriën timber In an internal document, firefighters recount in harrowing detail what they saw when they arrived on the scene of the March blaze that killed seven.
Published Sep 22, 2023 • Last updated Sep 25, 2023 • 4 minute read
A detailed internal report by the fire department describes the deployment to the scene at 224 Place d’Youville on March 16: The first nine fire engines and ladder trucks and two other fire services vehicles were dispatched at 5:42 a.m. Many more followed shortly after. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal GazetteThe firefighters on the scene of the blaze that claimed seven lives in Old Montreal in March noticed a strong smell of gasoline, the Montreal fire department says in a detailed internal report on the tragedy.
Investigators ultimately determined the fire on March 16 in the three-storey, mostly residential building at 224 Place d’Youville was deliberately set with the flammable liquid at the bottom of a basement stairwell, the report, obtained by the Montreal Gazette through an access-to-information request, states.
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The 65-page report reveals in harrowing detail what the firefighters and victims experienced, including that one man jumped from a second-floor window of the burning building and fell onto a parked car. The report doesn’t mention what happened to the man, or his injuries. About five people were rescued from the building by ladder, it says.
“Getting out of the truck, we hear a citizen jump on the vehicle parked on Place d’Youville,” the head of one of the fire department units that responded to the fire writes.
“There were around eight people at the windows shouting to help them. … There were no more evacuation exits inside the building and black and dense smoke and heat invading the apartments of the building. No audible sign of an alarm system or smoke detector in operation on the premises when we arrived.”
The same unit report continues: “At the very start of the rescues, I didn’t have enough units to take care of the people who were saved. It’s one (reason) why one person came in the truck since the temperature was cold and the people didn’t have much clothing on them.” The report says “there was blood everywhere in the truck.”
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“I help two injured people get away from the building to get to a secure place,” another unit leader writes. “One victim mentions to me that there are other people inside.”
The reports of each unit provide details of their role in the events, including the search and recovery of the bodies of the victims.
One unit leader explains that two victims were discovered days after the fire under debris on the third floor. The building roof had collapsed.
Another unit leader describes the discovery of the body of one of the fire’s victims on March 19, three days after the fire began, “who was on the floor just under their window.”
In late August, nearly five months after the fire, the Montreal police announced the matter had become an arson case after ruling out an accidental cause. The police major crimes division, which normally investigates homicides, is now part of the probe.
“We are talking about a criminal investigation,” Montreal police Insp. David Shane said in August. “Our investigators have identified a zone where the fire began and I can confirm that traces of accelerant were found.”
At the time, Shane refused to identify the accelerant used, saying it was to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation. But he said the use of an accelerant explains why the fire managed to spread throughout the building.
A page in the fire department report states the heat was propagated by “solid fuel (coal, wood, pellets, cardboard, paper, garbage…).”
On a page listing “automatic fire extinguisher,” “fire alarm system” and “smoke detectors,” the report states in each case: “undetermined.”
The report says a 911 call to report the fire was placed at 5:41 a.m. on March 16, and the first firefighters arrived at 5:46 a.m.
A provincial coroner’s inquiry into the fire is suspended until the criminal investigation is completed.
The family of Charlie Lacroix, an 18-year-old woman who died inside the building, is suing the city and the building’s owner, Émile Benamor, and an alleged operator of illegal Airbnbs in the building.
Randy Sears, who lost his son, Nathan, in the fire, filed an application in March to launch a class-action lawsuit against Benamor, Airbnb and the alleged Airbnb operator in the building.
Benamor, meanwhile, has filed a $7.6-million lawsuit against the city.
The report says the first nine fire engines and ladder trucks and two other fire services vehicles were dispatched to the fire at 5:42 a.m., followed by 11 other engines at 5:46 a.m., 5:48 a.m. and 5:58 a.m. Many more followed shortly after 6 a.m. It took firefighters more than a day to get the fire under control, the report says.
The report confirms the fire spread from the building at the corner of Place d’Youville and du Port St. to the building next door at 214 Place d’Youville. The Pointe-à-Callière archeology and history museum owns the latter building. The museum is suing the city for $3 million for damages from the fire.
The report indicates two people who appear to be borough officials in Ville-Marie were left voicemail messages at 6:06 a.m. after Hydro-Québec, Énergir, Urgences-Santé, Red Cross and the STM were contacted.
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Pointe-à-Callière museum sues city over deadly Old Montreal fire
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