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Major electrical failure caused St. James Town building fire

Last Updated Aug 23, 2018 at 1:37 pm EDT

Emergency crews respond to a fire at a highrise at 650 Parliament St. on Aug. 21, 2018. CITYNEWS/Tony Fera

A major electrical failure caused a six-alarm fire at St. James Town highrise which could leave approximately 1,500 people homeless for months.

Speaking outside the building on Thursday, Toronto fire Chief Matthew Pegg said the damage is considerable.

“There has been significant and major damage to the building’s electrical system,” he explained.

“There is no lights, no elevators, no fire protection systems, no power at all.”

Pegg said investigators are going room by room to inspect any further damage caused by the fire.

“It appears the damage inside the residents’ units appears to be very, very minimal,” he explained.

Pegg said it could take months to fully repair the damage done to the building.

Crews were called to the building near Parliament and Bloor streets around 1 p.m. Tuesday, after the fire started in a hydro vault in the basement and smoke quickly spread throughout the 20-storey building.

At the height of the fire, 26 vehicles, more than 100 firefighters, 17 pumpers and other equipment and personnel were at the scene.

In a release, the City of Toronto said four people had minor injuries.

Residents were allowed into their units Wednesday to collect their belongings.

Mayor John Tory said the building’s owner will cover the rent for all residents evacuated from 650 Parliament.

“While this seems obvious to all of us, I can assure you it was something that the tenants were worried about because the first of the month is close at hand,” he said.

“For as long as they are out of their homes, they will not be responsible for paying rent.”

Tory said that thanks to a number of partners, including several hotel groups and Airbnb, all evacuees have a hotel room or a home to stay in.

On Wednesday evening, Airbnb said it had activated its Open Homes program in Toronto and parts of the GTA till Sept. 2.

The program helps connect local residents who have been displaced with local hosts who are opening their homes for free in the event of major disasters.

Tory said one of the community centres will remain open for overnight stays “because we can’t necessarily anticipate people who might come and say they weren’t otherwise registered with us or looked after.”

In addition, Toronto’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) along with the Red Cross are working together to provide services to the residents including social service support, help to acquire medications, meals and sleeping rooms as well as pet retrieval and temporary housing for pets till they can be reunited with their owners. Animal Services has provided supplies for the displaced pets and and will provide support as needed.

Metropasses and food vouchers are being distributed to the affected families, as required, at the Wellesley Community Centre.