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Tenant recounts harrowing escape from Aylmer fire

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Despite losing nearly everything he owns in a downtown Aylmer fire, Justin Temple says he is fortunate to be alive.

Standing in front of the blocked-off remains of the century building he called home until Monday night, he recalled his frantic escape.

He says he and his girlfriend were watching a movie just after 8 p.m. when suddenly they noted the smell of burning plastic.

“And I opened my door and the hallway was filled with smoke. I closed my door and said, ‘Get the dog, get everything!’”

As his girlfriend fled, Temple went to find a fire extinguisher. It’s a decision he now regrets.

“The smoke was just so thick by that point. It was completely overwhelming. And I felt like I was going to pass out.”

Temple said he barely made it outside. “If I had of stayed any longer, I might not be here to tell you about. I’m really glad I didn’t get greedy about possessions.”

Temple’s possessions and those of at least another 10 tenants in six upper-floor units, are now buried in the collapsed building.An investigator is seen in the remains of building destroyed by fire in Aylmer. March 22m 2023. (Sean Irvine/CTV News London)

It is expected most of the debris will be cleared up over the next few days, as the town looks to fully reopen Talbot Street.

But for now, the fear of collapse has forced a partial sidewalk closure. It runs along the front of the destroyed building and those adjoining it.

One, Scotiabank, suffered smoke and water damage. A town order keeping it closed is posted on its back door.

While cooking is the suspected cause of the fire, a final investigation will take time, said Aylmer fire Chief Todd McKone.

“The unstable conditions we’re dealing with make it darn near impossible to get inside. Most of it [the investigation] will be external,” said McKone.

Once the building is removed a gap will remain in the streetscape.Aylmer Mayor Jack Couckuyt stands in front of what's left of a building in downtown Aylmer after a fire. March 22, 203. (Sean Irvine/CTV News London)

Aylmer Mayor Jack Couckuyt hopes it won’t be vacant for long. While his priority remains caring for those impacted, he is looking ahead and noting incentives to rebuild.

“I expect it to be several months before anything happens here, but we do have a community improvement [plan] in place, which would help builders restore what was there before. Because there is a major look to this downtown, and we kind of what to replace it as it is.”

And replacement of items lost in the fire is all Temple hopes for now, but he has no doubts the town will come through.

“Aylmer is a really good community and everyone has been really trying to reach out and help,” Temple shared.

Most tenants did not have insurance.

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