Fire department about to issue order to close Oxford building before fire
CTV News has learned that while a blaze at an apartment complex on Oxford Street is still under investigation, the London Fire Department had made a decision to issue an order to close before the blaze.
The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office spent the day scouring for evidence at the apartment complex that caught fire Monday. About 30 residents were displaced by the blaze.
Not only was the operator of the complex aware there were violations, but just minutes before the fire call came through, the London Fire Department decided to issue the order, essentially getting the fire marshal to deem the building unsafe for occupancy.
Missing and inoperable smoke alarms, poor maintenance and squalor were part of that home and many others connected to Keith Charles.
He is the operator of People Helping People, a group that houses people with mental health and addiction issues.
Charles is also connected to several other current and former group homes. According to the City of London, there are two homes he’s involved with in the 1600 block of Culver Drive that had zoning violations.
Another on Fleming Drive had its rental licence revoked this September. Still another on Clarke Road had frequent visits from the fire department, but no outstanding bylaw violations.
These homes operate without funding from the government. Instead, sources say residents pay upwards of $900 a month for a room and another $400 for food. Drugs are dispensed by other residents and not professionals.
As the food is prepared off site, the homes aren't subject to the same health inspections as other residential homes and because it isn't funded by the government directly, they aren't examined by the ministry.
Bylaw enforcement and fire officials are the key groups that police these homes and their powers are limited.
Reached by phone, Charles said: “Give me a little bit of time just to work on what’s going on now. I need to go and support. I have a fellow now that's in a piece of shock that I need to support.”
He was asked why he didn't act earlier?
"You know what? You're going to be appalled by the answer which I'm giving you. You're going to be appalled by it, but right now, I am not at liberty. I need to continue supporting this guy and you're going to be shocked when you hear.”
Despite repeated requests, Charles would not say what his reasons were for ignoring these orders.
Meanwhile, investigators have determined the fire started in the bedroom of an apartment, although the unit was reportedly empty at the time.
While fire alarms sounded, part of the investigation will look at what safety measures were in place.
“It doesn't just encompass fire cause and determination. We're looking at that, that's important for sure. But we're also looking at the fire safety systems in place in the building,” says Insp. Richard Derstroff, of the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office.
Pieces of evidence have been collected from the scene and will be sent for forensic testing. He says, because of that, it could be four to six weeks before an exact cause can be determined.
The displaced residents will remain at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope for now.
"They are some of our most vulnerable citizens. So, you know, I know there was additional staff called in to the Centre of Hope last night to assist with them. We've been working with the London ACT team, with London Intercommunity Health to try and meet as many of their needs as we can,” says the Salvation Army’s Perron Goodyear.
“Just this afternoon we did get a list of clothing and footwear needs for them and then those were being distributed out to the residents to try and get them as much support as we can.”