Update: 1:15 p.m.
AMHERST – The Amherst Police Department has relocated because of last night's fire in the downtown.
The department relocated to the fire department soon after the fire broke out in the Victorian Arms Apartments.
"The decision to move was made soon after the fire department arrived on the scene. They were quick to give us the heads-up and we quickly moved to the fire department," Deputy Chief Ian Naylor said.
Naylor said the public should see no interuptions in services because of the move. Crews from the town's IT department and Public Works assisted with the move, while Bell Aliant had the phone system hooked up in the new quarters.
The department's phone lines are still operating at 667-8600.
It's unknown how long the department will be out of its Victoria Street office. Naylor said there's extensive smoke damage in the main floor and water damage in the basement.
A video and slide show of the fire can bee seen at www.cumberlandnewsnow.com
Update: 12:45 p.m.
AMHERST – Excavators have been moved into place to demolish what remains of the Victorian Arms Apartments building in downtown Amherst.
Firefighters have been on the scene since 10:15 p.m. Sunday night battling the blaze in the century-old building that houses 29 apartment units and the Dooly’s lounge.
The Canadian Red Cross is working to help those displaced by the fire.
“We have 34 people registered, including 28 adults and six children,” district community supervisor Mona O’Brien said. “Our immediate response in an emergency situation such as this is to meet the basic needs including food, shelter and clothing, personal services such as pets and medications and to provide registration and inquiry services.”
The fire has displaced the Red Cross office in Amherst. The office was closed because of smoke and traffic detours in the downtown core.
Personnel and supplies from both Amherst and Truro are supporting a reception and shelter operation to assist those impacted by the fire. The Red Cross disaster team from Sackville, N.B. has been placed on standby.
O’Brien said 24 people stayed at the Amherst Lions Club overnight, while another 10 found alternate places to stay with family, friends and local hotels.
The comfort centre was originally established in the First Baptist Church, but smoke from the fire forced the relocation to the Lions Club.
The Red Cross is working with Amherst and Cumberland County emergency officials and other agencies including the Department of Community Services to assist the evacuees.
UPDATE 10:15 a.m.
AMHERST – Firefighters from several area fire departments are still on the scene of a major fire in downtown Amherst.
The fire has resulted in the closure of several downtown streets and businesses and the displacement of two dozen people from their apartments in the Victorian Arms building.
“We received the the call just after 10 p.m. last night and when we arrived we found the building to have an interior fire,” Capt. John Matthews of the Amherst Fire Department said early Monday. “The fire was hidden in the walls and ceilings.”
Matthews said all the tenants have been accounted for and the Amherst office of the Red Cross set up a comfort centre first in the First Baptist Church and then in the Amherst Lions Club.
Matthews said the fire was tough to fight in part because of the age of the building and because it got between the walls of the structure. When firefighters opened a hole in the roof just after 3 a.m. flames shot through and engulfed the century-old building.
“We had lots of help here overnight,” Matthews said. “Springhill, Sackville, Truemanville, River Hebert and Joggins all sent men and equipment. There were more than 70 firefighters on the scene all night.”
Matthews said it’s too early to determine the cause of the fire, but it’s believed it began in the basement of the building.
Firefighters were working early Monday to keep the flames from spreading to the adjacent Black Block.
Rod Wilson manages Dooly’s. He said he heard the fire alarm go off about 10:15 p.m. Sunday. When staff went to investigate they smelled smoke and began to evaculate the business.
“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 area so we got everyone out of the building,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he has a lot of great memories of the business, but he really feels for the people displaced by the fire.
“We have insurance will rebuild. I just can’t imagine how bad it is for the people in those apartments who have been displaced and are living on a cot having lost everything,” Wilson said. “They got nothing but the shirt on their backs.”
The fire has also displaced the Amherst Police Department, which has moved to the fire department.
Looking Good, Beaton Blaikie and Farrell, Lawtons Drugs, Dr. Hydorn’s office, the Cumberland RDA building and the lands office are all closed.
AMHERST – A fire forced the evacuation of more than 24 tenants from the Victoria Arms Apartments last night at about 10 p.m.
“At least one person required treatment for smoke inhalation because of the fire, which also forced evacuation of an adjacent building that houses the Amherst town police offices," said Dan Bedell, communications director of the Atlantic Canadian Red Cross.
The fire also forced the evacuation of Dooly’s.
Upon arrival, firefighters found smoke coming out the back entrance of both Dooly’s and the apartment building, and smoke was still pouring out heavily at 1:30 a.m.
One of the evacuees, Jordan Silvea, said people living in the apartment heard their alarms and filed out onto Victoria Street before fire fighters arrived.
“People were alarmed but weren’t sure what to do,” said Silvea. “Should they leave, is it a prank, is it serious? And here it is. It’s bad.”
Silvea left the apartment with only the clothes on his back.
“We have people who love me and my wife so we have a roof over our heads.”
Silvea is attending school and said, “Long term, I have to start over from this point on.”
Silvea feels bad for fellow tenants affected by the fire.
Gerald Porter agrees.
Porter is presently in the process of moving out of the Victoria Arms and has many of his belongings in his old apartment.
“There’s a lot of good people who live in there,” said Porter. “There is one family (who got out) with four people and their pets. I’d saw young kids out front crying.”
Fire fighters from throughout Cumberland County were at the scene and the Red Cross was handing out blankets to evacuees..
The Red Cross is establishing a reception centre and shelter for the evacuated tenants at the First Baptist Church at 90 Victoria Street.
The cause of the fire has not been determined by fire investigators.