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Fire destroys EDCL group home in Elmira

An accidental fire at a EDCL group home on First Street had Woolwich firefighters on scene May 5 to quickly extinguish the blaze. [Sean Heeger]

A fire Tuesday afternoon gutted an Elmira District Community Living group home at First Street and Flamingo Drive in Elmira. All of the residents were evacuated, and there were no injuries reported.

The cause of the blaze, which is believed to have started in a shed, is under investigation, but it’s considered to have been accidental. Damaged was pegged at $750,000.

Dennis Aldous, Woolwich deputy fire chief, said the damage so extensive that no personal items are likely to be recovered. An engineer will be looking at the structural integrity of the building, hollowed out by the fire that saw 10 trucks from three Woolwich stations respond.

“Although no cause has been determined, they are not expecting arson or foul play,” said EDCL executive director Greg Bechard, adding that the intensity of the fire makes it difficult to pinpoint a cause.

“It’s my understanding since everything was destroyed, the fire [department] was unable to [determine the cause].”

One bystander insisted the fire had started when a log caught on fire and travelled the flame towards the building, though the validity of the claim is unconfirmed, and Bechard had not heard the rumour.

“Be careful of what you are doing – a small, simple action can cause a major fire. This fire could have been a lot worse. A small little accident could cause a major fire,” Aldous warned.

Bechard said Wednesday an engineer from the insurance company was coming to investigate.

“Five fellows have been calling the building home some for 20 years,” he said of the residents who were evacuated, noting that when a neighbour knocked at the door, staff were able to take the men out and to safety. “As soon as the neighbour banged on the door and said, ‘hey, you have a fire,’ one staff tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher … and the tenants were removed from the building immediately.”

Bechard says the residents were not in danger at the time, although the fire spread from the shed and made its way to the roof of the house. The residents left the building with only the clothes on their backs.

Currently, the five men are now staying at one of the EDCL day program locations, the former municipal pool site, which is now being transformed into temporary housing. Individual rooms have been set up for all of the men, and there are also showers, laundry and a kitchen on site.

“They are familiar with where they are being housed right now, so it’s not a total upheaval. The staff is still there, and their housemates are … we are treating like it’s a holiday,” said Bechard.

“We are currently talking to two groups in Elmira that are looking at providing us a house for the duration until the new house is built,” he said, noting EDCL will work with the two houses to see which one suits them the best.

Earlier this year, the home was the victim of flooding which affected the basement and caused damages to an office and living quarters of one resident at the home.

Bechard says the renovation was completed only two weeks ago and they’re still unsure how the flood broke out.

EDCL has received messages online, offering a room in their house as well as cash donations to help the organization.

“What’s important at this point in time, as always, the Elmira community is amazing: they step up and say they might be able to help with housing.”

The association has received several requests on how to donate. People wanting to give can do so online through Canada Helps or by mailing a cheque to EDCL at 118 Barnswallow Dr. in Elmira. To inquire about donations, call 519-669-3205.

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