Careless smoking suspected in fire

Damage in Port Dover pegged at $500G

Fire at a building at 217 Main Street in Port Dover caused an estimated $500,000 damage Tuesday. An insurance adjuster said at the scene Wednesday it is too early to determine whether the building can be saved. Monte Sonnenberg / Simcoe Reformer

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PORT DOVER – Careless smoking is the suspected cause of a fire that caused $500,000 in damage in downtown Port Dover this week.

No one was injured in the blaze, which began around 1:15 p.m. Tuesday at 217 Main Street across from the Port Dover Dairy Bar. Gutted were the Coldwell Banker real estate office, Darbishire Cabinets and several apartments on the second floor.

In a news release Wednesday, the Norfolk Fire Department said the suspected cause was “carelessly discarded smoker’s materials.” Fire prevention officer Michael Atkins said the building was insured but that some tenants were not covered for contents.

“The fire started near a wall and immediately spread up and into the attic space,” Atkins said. “The outside of the building looked relatively calm but the fire was burning and spreading inside the ceiling.

“Our crews had a challenge in trying to get to the seat of the fire. They did a good job keeping the fire contained. There was a bit of fire damage to the adjoining building but overall the crews did a good job in stopping it from spreading beyond the first building.”

Tuesday’s emergency represented an unwelcome case of déjà vu for Elaina Pring, owner of On The Fringe leather goods outlets in Canada and the United States.

In April 2006, Pring found herself next door to another serious fire at the On The Fringe outlet on Lakeshore Boulevard West in Etobicoke.

That fire killed one person and destroyed three buildings. Pring’s outlet was down for repairs for six months but she recovered and continues to do business at this location. Pring was out of town for the fire 13 years ago but witnessed Tuesday’s destruction in Port Dover.

There were many nervous moments as Norfolk firefighters frantically poured water on the scene to prevent the flames from creeping north into a block of businesses, offices and apartments that includes the Lighthouse Festival Theatre, Schofield’s Bistro, Re/Max Erie Shores, Trish’s Bakery, and the head office of the Port Dover Board of Trade among other establishments.

Fire damage was limited to the top corner of Pring’s building while an apartment unit on the second floor suffered smoke damage. Inventory at On The Fringe and the Destination 13 boutique adjoining it emerged unscathed.

“The memories just came back,” Pring said Wednesday. “I was so thankful we survived it but also so sad that my neighbours lost everything.”

Pring and others had high praise for firefighters labouring in high heat and humidity to confine the fire to where it began.

“They are amazing,” she said. “I can’t say enough about them. I’m so proud that Gary (Spragg) was back in action and at the top of his game. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.”

At Coldwell Banker Coastline Realty, it’s business as usual for broker Gail Simmons and her eight agents.

Bell Canada has routed all calls to the office’s main number to Simmons’ cell phone. Plans are to establish a new office in Port Dover, but in the meantime Coastline staff have any number of places to hang their hats.

“Every real estate office in the area – small and large – has opened their doors to us,” Simmons said Wednesday. “So my realtors can drop in and make photocopies or do whatever they need to do.

“It’s a great community. As long as we’re plugged in to our phones, we can do whatever we need to do.”

A man who identified himself as an insurance adjustor said at the scene Wednesday that it is too early to determine whether the building at 217 Main Street can be saved. The Norfolk Fire Department was not prepared to declare the fire contained until after 4 p.m., by which time the roof and upper storey were destroyed.

For their part, Norfolk OPP were alarmed and disturbed that so many onlookers crowded the scene while firefighters went about their business.

Const. Ed Sanchuk, spokesperson for the force, said the wind changed early on in the battle and began blowing dense, toxic smoke easterly across Main Street. Sanchuk said many stood there with their children taking photos with their cellphones, presumably – Sanchuk added – to post to social media.

In the future, Sanchuk said everyone downwind from fires should scatter without being told. The fumes, he said, are loaded with carcinogens and can cause serious health problems at low levels of exposure.

“We know it looks really cool when emergency services are doing their jobs,” Sanchuk said. “But when the wind changed I had a hard time breathing myself. And there were parents standing there with small children. Why would you subject them to that?”

 

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