Apartment building, lounge left in rubble
© Darrell Cole – Amherst Daily News
Smoke billows from the Victorian Arms Apartment on Victoria Street late Monday afternoon. The fire, that started Sunday night, destroyed the building housing apartments and the Dooly’s lounge while also resulting in the evacuation of nearby buildings including the Amherst Police Department.
AMHERST – Anthony Goodwin thought someone was pulling a prank when the fire alarm went off at the Victorian Arms Apartments building last Sunday night.
“We were having supper when the alarm started going off. We thought someone was pulling a fast one like they usually do, but when we went out in the hallway it was full of smoke so we grabbed our dog and got out,” Goodwin said while watching the last wall of the building that was their home fall down. “We lost everything we had, but it could’ve been worse.”
Goodwin and Carol-Ann Villeneuve said they were fortunate in that they have been able to secure an apartment on Dickey Street. They also got some clothing from the Red Cross and were ready to make the move last night.
“It’s devastating. You see this stuff on TV and you don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” Villeneuve said. “When I walked out and saw the smoke I knew it was time to get out. I think I may have said a few swear words.”
Firefighters were called to the century-old apartment building just after 10 p.m. on Sunday. When they arrived they found smoke billowing from the lower part of the building that housed Dooly’s lounge.
The building was engulfed by 3 a.m. with just a shell left in the morning. Attention was focused on saving the adjoining Black Block, but flames fanned by strong westerly winds caused it to get out of control later in the afternoon.
The roof of a neighbouring building, that houses law offices and the Cumberland Early Intervention Program, was heavily damaged when a section of wall fell on it.
“We heard the fire alarm going and went over to check it out to see if it was real or a false alarm. It wasn’t two minutes and we saw smoke around the bar, so we got everyone out of the building,” Dooly’s manager Rod Wilson said.
“We have insurance and will rebuild. I just can’t imagine how bad it is for the people in those apartments who have been left homeless. They’ve lost everything.”
The building was purchased two years ago by a Halifax developer and had underwent a renovation
Capt. John Matthews of the Amherst Fire Department said the fire was a huge challenge for firefighters in the age and construction of the building.
“It’s been a very challenging day. We didn’t have a lot of things go in our favour, things like the wind,” Matthews said. “We knew when we got here last night that it had the potential to be this type of a job.”
The cause of the fire is unknown, but it’s believed to have originated in the basement.
Matthews said the members of the department are tired but grateful for the support from the community. He said people were bringing food, drinks and ice cream to the firefighters during the day.
He said the department was also grateful for the support from nearby fire departments who sent men and equipment to help battle the blaze.
“The extra help gave our guys a break and a chance to recharge their batteries,” Matthews said.
The fire resulted in the closure of many downtown streets and a lot of businesses decided not to open. The amount of water it took to fight the fire also led to reduced water pressure in many Amherst homes.
Amherst CAO Greg Herrett said there will likely be some disruption in the downtown for a few days as the debris is removed from the site.
He credited the fire departments for their work as well as EHS, Public Works and the police department. He said the town plans for emergencies and supports its fire department through the purchase of the best of equipment and providing the best training.
“We really appreciate the people for their patience and the donations of food and water other items for the firefighters. It’s been above and beyond,” Herrett said. “The Red Cross has done an amazing job, we had tremendous support from other fire departments and our town staff really rose to the occasion.”