Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tragic Fire at Rosemirlea Apartments

As I was coming home from work yesterday, I noticed some smoke in the neighbourhood as the bus neared my house. We were told by the bus driver that she couldn't turn down my street, so I was dropped off a few blocks away. It seemed clear that there was a fire nearby.

I followed the smoke down to Fourth Street, and caught a glimpse of the apartment building on Cumberland. I went down into a neighbour's back yard and took a few photos.

I knew immediately which building this was, and my heart sank. As I turned the corner, it was clear that the fire had already spread through most of the upper right-hand apartment.

I arrived on the scene at around 4:55pm, but the fire was well underway at this point. I found these two early videos of the fire on YouTube, uploaded by Sylvie Bissonnette, shot before the porch collapsed. The eerie sound of the fire alarm could still be heard this morning:

This building is in fact an 8 tenant apartment (6 above ground with 2 basement apartments). It's the historic Rosemirlea Apartments, located at 331 Cumberland, which were probably built around the 1920s. These apartments happen to be one of the few remaining old apartment buildings in the city. A few years ago, the other old apartment building just next door to it also burned down.

Here you can see the original hand-painted sign, reading "Rosemirlea Apartments".

This building boasts a gorgeous front entrance, with unique details, mouldings, and columns. I was told by a neighbour who's been in the building that the centre staircase was all nice wood, and that the building was quite nice on the interior. At this point, I wasn't sure if the building would survive, and I took several photos of the architectural details. As it stood, the building still had all of its original wood windows, porches, and details.

Hoses on the building were pumping as much as 10,000L of water per minute. This corner of the building was hosed so vigorously that the bricks around the doorway were eroded by the force of the water.

Details of the front porches.

Side view of the front entrance, showing some beautiful detailed panels and mouldings.

Here we see firefighters smashing windows to flood the interior to stop the fire from spreading to the lower floors.

Around 5:20 or so, Cornwall Electric arrives to cut the power to the building.

Apparently, one of the main issues was that the building had a flat tarred roof, and once it goes, they have to do the entire thing, front to back.

The small red house next door suffered some damage as well. It had some of its service wires torn off by fire hoses, and most of the siding on one side buckled from the intense heat.

This was taken from the rear of the building, where you can just make out the roof line of the red house on the lower left. My friend Gen lives just to the right of this photo on a small side street. I met up with her later.

At one point, a lot of the smoke was making its way down the staircase and out the front door.

Tenant Amanda Matte (striped shirt) and her boyfriend Chris Amell (black shirt) watch the scene in horror. Amanda had been on her way to Ottawa when she received a call from her friend, telling her that the apartment across the hall from her (she is on the 3rd floor left) was on fire. She had a cat and dog still in the building. Firefighters were able to rescue the animals, but the cat ran away afterwards. The cat is still missing, and Amanda and Chris are asking anyone who finds the cat to get in touch with her. The cat is orange and white. Amanda had just purchased renter's insurance 2 days ago after having lived in the apartment with her boyfriend for roughly 18 months.

You can hear some sound bites from Amanda in this article:

Other tenants were not so lucky. One tenant of 9 years lost everything (no insurance), while another couple, James Buckshot and Angeline Ceasor who rented a basement apartment for just a few weeks also had no insurance. Mr Buckshot also had medication in his apartment which he needs for health issues that require nearly constant attention. (Source:

As the front facade of the building burned, the heat was so intense that the bricks were discoloured (note bluish colouring around the edges).

At this point, it was nearly 7pm, and I had not gone home yet, so I walked home to grab a bite to eat, drop off my bag, and call Gen.

To give you an idea of how close by this fire was, here is a photo taken from my front yard. It is just a block and a half south from me.

Walking back to the scene around 7:50pm...

When I returned, the scene had not improved much. The entire upper brick centre had collapsed, and Amanda's apartment was in flames.

In this photo, you can just barely make out a beautiful archway though the door. It also revealed that the building's interior walls are all old lath and plaster (which burn like kindling).

Large sections of brickwork tumbled to the ground as water was pumped onto the exterior wall.

After some more time, and a quick walk over to Gen's place to check things over (make sure all the windows and doors were sealed-up), we walked back. This was probably close to 8:30 at this point.

I went home close to 9pm, and walked back over around 10pm. The fire was mostly out, but firefighters were still dousing the rear of the building.

I was actually out again this morning just before 8am to go to a yard sale, and took these "aftermath" shots. Sadly, I expect that though the building may still be partially stable on the first 2 floors, it will likely be demolished due to all the damages caused to the brickwork and the extensive water damage.

Other notes:

- Everyone and all the pets were safely evacuated from the building by the time I got there (as far as I know), and no one was injured (as far as I know).

- Some people were saying that this fire was deliberately set, but no official word has confirmed this. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

- Another rumour that I overheard was that the fire was set by a girl named Angel who had also lived in the building next door that burned down. This is also unconfirmed, and is likely just a rumour.

- Another rumour is that the fire was caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette.


  1. 10k l PER MINUTE? Holy cow, and here I was impressed because they pumped that amount into the attic apartment over the course of 4 hours!

    Roughly half of that made it down into the place above ours and then ours... my bedroom's still recovering from the flood.

  2. So sad. Glad everyone is OK.

  3. Part of the problem with these lovely old apartment buildings (I've lived in three in Cleveland, all built between 1910 and 1930 with glorious woodwork, trim work, and hardwood floors) is that the city governments don't take any action to ensure that the electrical is updated to modern standards. Just blithely allow the owner to do whatever. If I had my way I would make an city ordinance (Heck, it ought to be a State law!)that states that an apartment building (NOT single family dwellings) like this cannot be sold unless the electrical is updated to something 2002 NEC or something like that. It's really a matter of public safety! Fires like this happen all the timein Cleveland, and many times it's traceable to an electrical cause.

    1. As far as I heard, apparently the rumour going around about the girl who caused the previous fire at the neighbouring buildings is true. Apparently she left a burning cigarette (or other drugs, since apparently she's a "crack whore") burning on the front porch rail, which caught fire. I don't think this was an electrical fire.

  4. OTOH "electrical" can have a lot of meanings. All too often it's a faulty or incorrectly used appliance (e.g. portable fan heater) or cheap/damaged extension cords (undersized wire, squeezed under heavy furniture or in doorways).

    In Switzerland there are mandatory checks of home wiring done by state-licensed agencies, homes have to be inspected every 10 years, offices every 5 and factories yearly I think. If these inspections show code violations (violations of the code which was in effect when the wiring was done, so sometimes that can be an early-1900s code) the owner has to fix them or can be fined. Unfortunately in reality the owner has 10 years to fix them in homes as there are no re-inspections and sometimes violations are never fixed at all.

    In Austria you can't rent out an apartment without a wiring inspection - in theory. In reality, no one bothers and those landlords who do are bit, because most electricians misinterpret the law (our electrical code has the status of a law) and claim the wiring has to be brought up to current(!) code, which in their eyes usually involves a gut rewire.

    Bottom line: I don't think you can force home owners to upgrade their wiring, but mandatory inspections with hefty fines and actual enforcement could help. The insurance companies could also apply a LOT of pressure on the owners, probably more so than the government.