AMHERST – Life is slowly beginning to return to normal in downtown Amherst a day after a devastating fire that left more than 30 homeless.
Firefighters from the Amherst Fire Department remain on scene pouring water on what used to be the Victorian Arms Apartment building on Victoria Street.
“Right now we have a pile of rubble that’s still burning. Our first priority is to put it out,” Chief Bill Crossman said. “There’s a systematic process we have to go through to determine cause and origin and it’s something that’s going to take time.”
Crossman said he expects to have the smoke cleared from the downtown by Wednesday morning.
The fire, that broke out Sunday just after 10 p.m., burned through the night and into Monday with strong winds in the afternoon fanning the flames on the adjoining Black Block building.
By Monday evening, a smouldering pile of rubble was all that remained of the century-old buildings.
“The fire controlled the whole thing. It was two old structures that have been renovated many times. There were areas throughout that had fire wall penetration where fire could travel that we were not aware of,” he said. “We fought the fire offensively for two hours but it got to the point that it wasn’t safe for our people so we pulled them out and took a defensive posture.”
Crossman said the firefighters did a great job stopping the blaze at the firewall connected to the police department. He said he doesn’t want to think about what could have happened had it spread further.
“We have some pretty tired men. We are licking our wounds and continuing to go at it,” he said.
Crossman said he was amazed with the level of support from residents and businesses.
“It was incredible. We live in an incredible town,” he said. “It really means a lot to the men working around the clock fighting the fire to experience the generosity of people bringing food and drink to the scene.”
Mona O’Brien of the Canadian Red Cross said most of the tenants displaced by the fire have found temporary places to stay with residents and friends in the community.
Several landlords with vacant apartments are offering longer-term accommodations and local businesses, community groups and individuals have made offers to donate clothing, furniture and household items.
In all, O’Brien said, the organization registered and completed emergency needs assessments for 37 people, including seven children. They were provided with blankets, personal-care kits and other support depending on need.
Only four people had to spend the night on cots at the Red Cross shelter at the Amherst Lions Club. Lions club members also volunteered their time and resources assisting with meals and beverages.
A number of businesses in the downtown remained closed on Tuesday because of smoke from the fire, including the Red Cross office in the Maritime Professional Centre.
The Red Cross accepts financial donation to its Canadian disaster relief fund to support services such as those provided after the fire. Donor options include securely at redcross.ca or by calling 1-800-418-1111, or in person at the local office when it reopens.
Non-monetary donations such as furniture, bedding and clothing can contact the Salvation Army at 667-1574. The Salvation Army has set up a distribution centre in a vacant store in the Amherst Centre Mall.