MATTAWA, Ont. — As wisps of black smoke continued to escape from the roof of a fire-damaged four-unit housing complex on Mattawan Street early Wednesday, Mattawa Fire Chief Paul Lafreniere's first thoughts were with the man seriously injured in the incident.
"When I arrived on the scene, he was in the process of vacating his family from their unit. He did have burns on his person," observed Lafreniere.
As Lafreniere spoke on Mattawan Street in the morning sun, an air ambulance touched down at Mattawa General Hospital to airlift the man — who witnesses said suffered the burns in the chaos as residents tried to get their loved ones and themselves to safety in the cold and dark early morning hours.
See original story: Early morning Mattawa blaze leaves one person with life-threatening injuries
The Fire Chief confirmed several people, including children, were still inside units of the attached row of the Mattawan Apartments when the volunteer firefighters arrived shortly after 4 a.m., following a 911 call alerting the fire department to the situation.
"We provided assistance to remove residents from the surrounding units that were compromised. We made sure everyone was out of the buildings and the guys did a terrific job bringing the fire under control," offered Lafreniere.
Witnesses say as many as 13 people were inside the units when the fire broke out but not all were residents.
Besides the airlifted man, Lafreniere confirmed one member of his fire crew was taken to hospital with a minor injury after slipping and falling on the ice formed caused by the cold air and water used to fight the blaze.
Lafreniere's concerns also extended to the four displaced families. The Red Cross had been called for assistance and the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board advised alternate housing is being sought for the four displaced households, consisting of a total of five adults and six children.
Dave Mendicino, President of the Nipissing District Housing Corporation responsible for the badly damaged units and 52 others in Mattawa, said Wednesday afternoon there are no vacancies in its holdings in the town itself but a search will begin across the district.
"For now, two of the households are living with family members and the other two are staying in a local motel in Mattawa," said Mendicino.
Asked to estimate the damage, Lafreniere responded, "I would say in excess of half a million dollars."
A neighbour commented on how the devastation of the fire had caused "so many memories to be lost," for the families.
Another, who had helped shelter the fire victims who escaped into the cold morning air said none of the neighbours thought twice about opening their homes.
"This is Mattawa. That is what we do."
As of mid-Wednesday, the cause of the structure fire remained "undetermined," according to Lafreniere.
"Because of the size of the structure and the sizable loss in terms of dollar value, the Fire Marshal's Office has been contacted. They are sending fire investigators here to look at the potential cause, in conjunction with the OPP in determining the origin of the fire."