As the residents and business owners who were affected by the May 24 fire on Durham Street begin to rebuild their lives, the City of Greater Sudbury says they’ll have support for as long as they need.
Greater Sudbury Fire crews responded to the fire at 2:18 p.m. and battled the blaze until the late evening. At around 8 p.m. firefighters confirmed that “the loss was stopped,” and later confirmed the fire was out.
In an interview with Sudbury.com the day after the fire, Deputy Fire Chief Craig Lawrence told Sudbury.com the challenge in old buildings such as this one, built in 1937, is that smoke hides in the empty spaces between the walls, making it hard to pinpoint the source of the fire.
Over the course of the day, firefighters cycled in and out of battling the blaze. Usually, there are 24 firefighters on shift. Extinguishing this fire took the work of 57 firefighters.
The building held several businesses on the main floor including Oscar's Grill, Kulta Vintage, BusinessKasual, The Coulson, Diamonds, Monteleone Custom Fashions, and Thrive Health Foods, as well as three stories of residential units. All told, there are 40 units in the building.
Kulta Vintage and BusinessKasual have managed to secure a new location at 96 Paris St., open as of June 6 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Bianca Ferland, entertainment manager at The Coulson, told Sudbury.com that the Coulson and Diamonds are suffering, and as many employees lived in the building, it is a bigger challenge.
However, they are trying to be positive and continue on.
Ferland was not on site when the fire began, but her husband and Coulson sound technician Steve McArthur was in the area. He decided to follow the fire trucks he saw in the downtown core, and was shocked when they arrived at the Coulson Building.
Ferland was home with her daughter; McArthur told her not to come.
“He said ‘You don't want to see this,’ so I stayed home,” she said. “I'm happy I did because I did go the next day and I was crushed.”
She said previously she had looked at it as just a “building made out of bricks,” but after the fire, that changed.
“For some reason, once you go and you see it in that state you realize that it's so much more than that,” she said. “It has character, the building has soul. It has life, meaning and purpose.”
It is also a loss of affordable housing, said Ferland, as many of her coworkers who lived in the building are now facing a raise in rental rates as they try to move elsewhere in the city. One couple who only recently moved to the building told Ferland their new apartment costs $600 more in rent.
“And that’s not to mention furniture, having to buy new things,” said Ferland.
Smoke damage was significant in the building, she said, and told Sudbury.com that she and her husband were planning to clean their sound equipment this week, as soon as they are allowed to enter.
Ferland said not only was smoke damage an issue, but in the days after the fire, a layer of soot landed on everything. “Almost two inches of it, on everything, everywhere.”
Ferland said the residential units are also a priority.
“That's the first thing, and then second will be the Diamonds and the night club,” she said, noting that Diamonds will be first as there is less equipment to replace.
The Coulson had just undergone a renovation to be rebranded as the Coulson Entertainment Centre. “We got a $130,000 grant from the Government of Canada and Factor Canada, and we upgraded all our lights, our sound system,” Ferland said. “And now it's…” Ferland didn’t finish her sentence, brought to tears.
After the fire, the Red Cross set up an emergency station at the YMCA downtown, and many residents spent the night there. It’s part of a partnership with the city, said Gail Spencer, manager of housing stability and homelessness.
“The city provides a grant to the Canadian Red Cross to provide 72-hour personal disaster assistance to people who live in the City of Greater Sudbury and experience emergencies, such as a fire or flood, or some other emergency that requires them to have to leave their home,” said Spencer.
She said that a Red Cross volunteer would connect directly with the person to arrange immediate support, which could include accommodations, food, gift cards to purchase necessities like clothing and help with any personal items like prescriptions or mobility devices.
Not every tenant needs support, Spencer said, noting that in many instances people would prefer to go through insurance or stay with family, or even at camp while things are sorted. But support is available, she said, and as long as necessary.
Initially, there were 28 people affected by the fire who needed housing support. As of today, there are eight families that the city is assisting, continuing support on a week-to-week basis for as long as needed.
“We continue to pay for hotels, we continue to help out with food, transportation, clothing, whatever people need, we try to work it out within the system,” said Spencer.
If there is the expectation that residents are able to re-enter their housing, then short-term stays work. If that’s not possible, residents can apply for housing support and income supplements.
“These would be the same services that we would help to anyone who is without a home,” said Spencer. “We transition people into our regular homelessness services, to support them if it's going to be a longer-term stay, but initially, we're trying to help people to find another safe solution on a temporary basis until they can get back into their unit.”
Though there were no serious injuries other than treatment for smoke inhalation, many pets were rescued, and those that did require extensive veterinary care. The pets that died required burial.
In order to support those pets and their worried owners, Grassroots Co. is hosting a car wash fundraiser for the veterinary bills the displaced residents are facing.
Held at 1113 Lasalle Blvd. the event takes place June 18 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The Coulson’s DJs will be providing music.
You can further support the residents and businesses affected by the fire by continuing to the GoFundMe currently run by the Downtown BIA. Find the donation page here.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com