On The Job - Ontario: Barrie Arson Fire Destroys Row of Historic Buildings

On Dec. 6, 2007, a suspected arson fire destroyed five buildings in the historic Five Points area of downtown Barrie, Ontario. One hundred firefighters operated numerous pieces of apparatus as eight hydrants, along with a nine-hour drafting operation from a nearby bay, supplied the five million gallons of water needed to extinguish the fire.

After a devastating fire in 1876 that destroyed the original hotel and an entire block northwest of the Five Points section, builders were pressured into using brick instead of wood-frame construction. The hotel was rebuilt by proprietor Thomas Summersett and thus became known as the Summersett Hotel. It later came to be known as the Wellington Hotel.

The three-story hotel was of wood-frame and brick construction with a flat wood-and-tar roof. The building contained smoke detectors and manual pull stations that were connected to a central monitoring station. Two restaurants, the Riviera and the Royal Thai, occupied the first floor of the building and the two upper floors contained multiple residences. The building to the west of the origin building was also three stories of brick-and-wood construction with a flat roof. This building contained two clothing stores, Sinfully Yours and The Vintage, with apartments on the upper two floors. The building to the west of this was a two-story brick-and-wood building containing the Ports of Barrie nightclub on the first and second floors. The building to the north was a two-story brick-and-wood structure that contained Stephens Jewelers and The Tattoo Place on the first floor with apartments above.

The Barrie Fire Department was dispatched at 11:32 P.M. to a reported explosion and fire at the Royal Thai restaurant at the corner of Dunlop and Bayfield streets. Responding on the first alarm were Pumps 1 and 2 and Tower 1, a 100-foot aerial platform with a 1,200-gpm pump, with 13 firefighters under the command of Acting Platoon Chief Len Mitchell. First-arriving units found tables and chairs from the restaurant lying in Dunlop Street with smoke coming from the blown-out windows. Fire was observed in the basement and the exterior walls were noticeably bowed out. All occupants had self evacuated upon arrival of the fire department. Barrie City Police Services were requested by Mitchell to evacuate the adjoining buildings while the first-alarm companies attempted a primary search of the building of origin.

Pump 1 and Tower 1 were positioned in front of the building on Dunlop Street. Pump 1 was supplied with a 200-foot, four-inch line from a hydrant at the corner of Dunlop Street and Maple Avenue. Firefighters advanced two 150-foot 1½-inch attack lines into the restaurant in an attempt to reach the basement. Crews progressed to the basement stairs, but were unable to access the basement due to heat and fire conditions. After approximately 10 minutes, interior crews were forced to evacuate the building as the first floor was becoming spongy. Balloon construction allowed the fire to rapidly spread to the upper floors.

Mitchell requested a second alarm at 11:44 P.M. Pump 3 and Pump 4 responded with eight firefighters. Pump 3 was positioned in an alley at the northwest corner of the fire building and supplied by a 500-foot, four-inch line from Pump 2, which hooked onto a hydrant on Maple Street. Pump 3 placed its elevated master stream into operation to protect the exposed Ports of Barrie nightclub.

Pump 4 laid a 300-foot, four-inch supply line from a hydrant at Clapperton and Collier streets to a position at the southeast corner at the intersection of Dunlop and Clapperton streets. Pump 4 placed its deck gun into operation protecting the Simcoe Hotel on the adjacent corner. This pumper also supplied a portable monitor set up on Bayfield Street to protect exposures on the northeast corner. This monitor was supplied by two 150-foot 2½-inch hoselines.

At 11:48, Mitchell requested a third alarm at 11:48. Ladder 3, a 75-foot TeleSqurt with a 1,050-gpm pump, responded with a callback crew of one captain and three firefighters. Ladder 3 was set up on Dunlop Street and placed its aerial master stream into operation. This ladder was supplied by a 300-foot, four-inch line from a hydrant on Maple Street.

Shortly after midnight, Deputy Fire Chief Rick Monkman requested mutual aid. The New Tecumseth Fire Department responded with Pump 25 and Aerial 17, a 100-foot aerial platform with a 1,050-gpm pump, and seven firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Dan Heydon. The Innisfil Fire Department responded with Pump 3 and a crew of four. The Essa Fire Department responded with Pump 1 and a crew of four under the command of Fire Chief Paul MacDonald. The Springwater Fire Department responded with Pump 21 and the 1,000-gallon Tanker 25 with seven firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Tony Van Dam. The Oro-Medonte Fire Department responded with Pump 1 and four firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Scott Cowden.

New Tecumseth Aerial 17 was positioned at the northwest corner of the involved buildings and set up for aerial operations. Essa Pump 4 hooked onto a hydrant at the corner of Ross and Mary streets and fed a 600-foot, four-inch line to Springwater Pump 21, which in turn pumped a 500-foot, four-inch line to Aerial 17. New Tedumseth Pump 25 staged at Barrie Fire and Emergency Service Station 1, Innisfil Pump 3 was staged to provide coverage to the south end of Barrie and Essa Pump 1 was also staged for coverage.

Providing an adequate water supply to the fireground was becoming a challenge with eight hydrants in operation. At 1 A.M., command decided to draft water from Kempenfelt Bay, 800 feet away, to ensure that the volume could be supplied. Oro-Medonte Pump 1 laid an 800-foot, four-inch line from the scene to the bay and drafted to supply Barrie Tower 1. When Oro-Medonte Pump 1 experienced mechanical problems, Springwater Tanker 1 replaced it. Drafting operations continued for nine hours.

Platoon Chief Don Hargreaves declared the fire under control at 11:30 A.M., Dec. 7. Mutual aid units were released at 3 P.M. The last Barrie unit left the scene at 8 A.M. on Dec. 10. Weather conditions at the time of the fire were snowy with 20-degree temperatures and 10- to 15-mph winds. Damage was estimated at $2.5 million to the buildings and $1.5 million to the contents. One firefighter was injured. Forty-three residents were displaced from apartments.

A one-week on-scene investigation was conducted by Barrie Fire and Emergency Service, Ontario Fire Marshal, Technical Safety and Standards Association, Enbridge Gas and Barrie Police Services. Two individuals were charged with arson and obstruction.

JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.