THUNDER BAY – An overnight fire has completely destroyed a Simpson Street structure and firefighters say it is unclear at this time if anyone was inside, though witnesses in the area say everyone was evacuated.
Crews with Thunder Bay Fire Rescue were dispatched to the 600 block of Simpson Street at approximately 2 a.m. for reports of a structural fire.
According to Thunder Bay Fire Rescue platoon chief, John Kaplanis, crews were unable to perform a complete search of the structure due to the intensity of the fire.
“The first crews arriving on scene encountered heavy smoke and flame in the structure,” Kaplanis said. “They did make an attempt to do an interior search, however, we were pushed out of the building by the intensity of the fire and we have been fighting it ever since in a defensive strategy.”
Kaplanis said it is unknown if the building was occupied and that it appears to be a vacant. Two other adjacent units were also heavily damaged.
“There were a lot of people milling about the building trying to get inside while crews were on scene and trying to do firefighting operations, so we were concerned about that,” he said. “We got those people out of the way and away from the building. We are not sure if anybody had been in the building prior to our arrival. We only conducted a partial search before we were pushed out.”
Paul Bogdala, who owns Bogdala Smoked Meats down the street, said he noticed the flashing lights and smoke at approximately 1 a.m.
"The fireman were knocking on the door making sure everyone was waking up and getting out and they start breaking doors," he said.
"Then started putting water into the fire and into the openings."
"After fire started getting heavy, smoke coming out, black, you couldn’t even breathe out here because the wind was blowing this way."
Bogdala added that he did not hear about any injuries as a result of the fire and he believes there were several apartments in the building.
"I talked to the bystanders at night and they said everybody got out. So it seems like nobody got hurt," he said. "I think we have very good fireman in Thunder Bay. The action was fast and they were working hard to keep it in control. These old buildings can burn one after another one easy."
Early Thursday morning, fire crews were still battling the fire with support from aerial ladders and water suppression. Heavy smoke and flames could still be seen coming from the rear of the structure. Crews expect the fire to smoulder for days and it will be monitored for hotspots.
“Once we make the situation more tenable and safe for firefighters, we will conduct a further search,” Kaplanis said.
There is no word yet on the cause of the fire and Kaplanis said he expects fire crews and investigators will be on the scene for at least the next 24 hours.
The fire will be under investigation by Thunder Bay Fire Rescue and the Ontario Fire Marshal.
Nearly 40 firefighters responded to the fire, close to the full complement of firefighters on duty in the city.
Simpson Street remains closed between Pacific Avenue and Ogden Street though Fire crews hope to reopen the street to through traffic later today.