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One-year anniversary of Hanover, Ont. fire that displaced over 50 residents

In the early morning hours on May 19 of last year, a Hanover, Ont. police officer spotted smoke coming from the roof of a downtown rooming house.

By the time, fire crews arrived, the two-story structure, home to more than 50 people, was engulfed in flames.

“That was the biggest fire in my career. I’ve been with Hanover Fire for 25 years, and that’s the largest fire I’ve ever been a part of,” said Hanover Fire Chief Jeff Dentinger.

By daylight, the former Forum rooming house and two main floor businesses were destroyed. 54 tenants, many transient in nature, left homeless.

“It was disastrous for the community. Even worse for the people that lost their homes. The sense of loss was felt by the whole community,” said Hanover Mayor Sue Paterson.

A year later, what’s left behind is a giant hole in Hanover’s downtown, with no publicized plans to rebuild.

However, a public acknowledgement was made stating that the fire that caused so much damage could have been so much worse.

“[Fire crews] really saved our downtown, to be honest with you. As much as we lost a few businesses, and the homes; the damage could have been much worse and carnage could have more significant,” said Hanover Police Chief Chris Knoll.

The burned-out remains of buildings in downtown Hanover, Ont. after a fire tore through multiple buildings on May 19, 2022. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

One of the businesses impacted by the fire, Johnny K Sports, still hasn’t reopened a full year later. Knoll and Paterson said most of the 54 displaced tenants have found new accommodations, either in Hanover or nearby. But, some haven’t, adding to the region’s growing houseless population.

“People that were impacted are still recovering. We haven’t lost site of that. People were displaced. Businesses were lost,” said Knoll.

What happens with the land that once housed the rooming house is yet to be decided, but locals are eager for something go up in its place.

An empty lot left in downtown Hanover following a May 19, 2022 fire, as seen on May 19, 2023. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

“The history is here. We have the memories, but now we’re looking towards the future,” said Mayor Paterson.

Dentinger said the fire, as awful as it was, is a great learning tool for current and future firefighters who hope they never see anything like it again.

“It’s been a very useful tool, that experience to show others what happened, and what the result was," said Dentinger.

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