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Fire officials say fatal five-alarm fire started in 8th floor unit

Last Updated Nov 16, 2019 at 9:36 pm EST

One person is dead after a five-alarm fire erupted in a highrise apartment building in North York late Friday afternoon, quickly spreading to several floors.

About 100 firefighters and 22 trucks fought the stubborn blaze on Gosford Boulevard near Jane Street and Steeles Avenue West before it was brought under control more than four hours later.

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said Saturday morning that firefighters discovered the deceased person on the eighth floor while conducting a secondary search of the building around 1 a.m.

Officials have not released the name, age or gender of the victim pending the results of a coroner’s examination to determine the exact cause of death.

“First and foremost on behalf of all of us at Toronto Fire Services and the city and all of our partner agencies, I extend my very sincere condolences to family, friends and all of those affected by that tragic loss,” said Pegg.

Fire officials confirmed the blaze originated in suite 808 on the eighth floor and that the victim was located on the balcony of that unit.

“Unfortnuately, given the heavy flames and the circumstances in the unit of origin and a couple in the vicinity, we simply were not able to get into those suites until such time as the crews had supressed the fire,” said Pegg.

During the fire, some terrified tenants went out on their balconies where witnesses said they could be heard screaming for help.

“You see it on TV but you never feel like it’s going to happen so close to you. It’s very sad,” said an emotional Daniela Viana as she recalled the horrifying details of Friday night’s fire.

“This man just started running out onto the balcony and everyone was like, ‘run, jump.’ I got scared, it was terrible. It’s very scarring. I felt so bad for him. Everyone was telling him to jump and we were getting mattresses from the garbage… it was terrible.”

On Saturday, Chief Pegg told reporters he believes firefighters did not have specific information about an individual on that balcony.

“It’s extremely frustrating. That we weren’t able to complete the primary search is some of the most challenging and frustrating circumstances our firefighters will face,” explained Pegg. “Unfortunately, specific to suite 808 – in the suite of origin and a couple in the vicinity – the conditions were just such that there was physically no way for us to get in and complete that search.”

The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office is on the scene investigating the cause of the blaze and Toronto police say they are running a parallel investigation.

“I don’t have any specific information to determine that it is suspicious in this case,” said Richard Derstroff, a provincial investigator from the Fire Marshal’s Office.

The Electrical Safety Authority determined power to the entire building needed to be cut, forcing the evacuation of up to 700 residents from the building.

A representative with the Toronto Office of Emergency Management says 354 residents have been displaced as a result of the fire. About 100 are being sheltered at the nearby Driftwood Community Centre but officials say many of them will be relocated to York University on Sunday. As for how long people will be out of their homes, that has yet to be determined.

“There’s quite significant damage, obviously from the seventh floor up to the ninth floor,” said Derstroff. “Definitely the eighth floor is going to be inaccessible for a significant period of time.”

Structural engineers were also called to the building Saturday to determine when it will be safe for residents to return to their homes.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report