Massive blaze destroys six buildings in Barrie
Barrie firefighters were still dousing the smouldering remains of a massive downtown fire Friday morning and warned it was too early to rule out the possibility of deaths.
"There is no guarantee. Right now it is premature to say that everyone did get out," deputy fire chief Rick Monkman told Global TV Friday morning.
Portions of charred walls stood amid debris that spilled onto the street as firefighters continued to snuff out the remaining flames of an overnight fire that destroyed six buildings which housed eight businesses and apartments.
Monkman said the suddenly homeless were being housed at the Salvation Army and a local church had also pitched in to help.
Global TV images of the fire showed flames reaching high into the sky.
Fire officials said the blaze appears to have started around midnight in a restaurant on the city's main street and quickly spread to surrounding buildings. The cause has not been determined but witnesses report hearing some kind of explosion.
"There are signs there was an explosion," said Monkman. "But what caused it we do not know. It is very early. We have not been able to start the investigation."
He said the area needs to be secured before it is safe enough for investigators to begin sifting through the ashes.
"It just shook. It felt like an earthquake," Matt Gilbert, who lives next to the building, told the Barrie Examiner newspaper. Gilbert was sleeping when he heard what he described as "a very loud boom."
Gilbert told the newspaper the explosion blew the front door of the restaurant out onto the street along with chairs and other debris.
More than 70 firefighter from Barrie and neighbouring communities battled the blaze.
One of the destroyed buildings was over 100 years old.
"The damage will be in the millions of dollars," Monkman said.
Barrie is located about one hour north of Toronto.