The cause of a fire that broke out in a two-unit apartment complex in Sydney on Tuesday night is under investigation by the fire marshal's office and the Cape Breton Regional Police Service's forensic identification unit.
Five people were displaced in the fire that broke out at about 9:30 p.m. at 592 Upper Prince Street in a building that neighbours said included two men living in a unit downstairs and three international students living upstairs. There were no injuries reported.
Devin Florian, who lives across the street, saw the fire not long after it broke out.
“I was upstairs and heard a crackling sound and looked out and saw the steps was on fire,” he said.
“I ran downstairs and told my mother to call 911.”
Florian said he ran outside and by that time the tenants were outside. He said one individual was trying to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. The flames were quite high at that point.
“It was like using a water gun,” he said. “It wasn’t doing a whole lot.”
He said the blaze was significant, with the step area on the structure quite large.
Florian said he didn’t know any of the tenants.
Cape Breton Regional Police Service and Cape Breton Regional Fire Services were on the scene within a couple of minutes, he added.
Gilbert MacIntyre, deputy fire chief with Cape Breton Regional Fire Services, said two of their units, Station 1 on the Esplanade and Station 2 on Victoria Road, responded to the fire. He said it’s too early to say what caused the blaze and the extent of damage was not known by mid-Wednesday afternoon.
CBRPS spokesperson Desiree Magnus said officers were on the scene Tuesday speaking with residents and neighbours to gather initial information. Wednesday, officers with the regional force's forensic identification unit were back on the scene to assist the fire marshal’s office in determining the cause.
If the fire marshal's office deems the fire to be suspicious in origin, it would then be referred to police to investigate, she added.
Mary Lynn Hurley, disaster response volunteer for the Canadian Red Cross, said they were on the scene Tuesday night to see if anyone needed assistance. Emergency lodging was arranged for one adult, and lodging along with clothing and food purchases for another.
There were also three other adults — believed to be international students at Cape Breton University — living in the upstairs unit of the structure. Hurley said they only spoke with them for a short time to let them know what the Canadian Red Cross could offer by way of assistance. She said the tenants indicated they didn’t need assistance because there were people there to help them.
“We didn’t get involved any further, at least not yet.”
She said there were a number of what she believed to be other international students at the scene.
“They definitely seemed like they were there to help,” she added.
Another neighbour, who wished not to be identified, said she wasn’t feeling well Tuesday night and was in bed at the time of the fire, but her husband did see the blaze.
“He said it was up all one side of the house.”
The woman said she didn’t know the tenants, but she was aware that there were a couple of men living downstairs and international students living upstairs.
Looking at the damaged building on Wednesday morning, she said it was terrifying to see police tape cordoning off the scene. She was relieved to hear no one was injured.
She also knew one of the tenants had a cat and was worried about the animal at first, but she said her husband saw someone with the cat outside the building.
Anyone with any information on the fire is asked to call the CBRPS at 902-563-5151 or Crime Stoppers at 902-562-8477.