Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com
GRAVENHURST — Two weeks after a fatal fire left a mom of five dead, police and the Ontario Fire Marshal have yet to say what happened.
The mayor says he is committed to inspections of apartments to prevent another “tragedy.”
The town’s chief building official says they and the bylaw department had visited the home a couple of time for “debris” in yard, but there were no charges.
And the community is left in limbo as to the cause, which has left the charred aftermath still standing today on First Street.
A reminder of what happened and what many think could have been prevented.
Mayor Paul Kelly said “maybe it’s a lesson for everybody” about home inspections.
“I guess it’s something we need to review.
“Yeah, I think it’s worthwhile, absolutely.”
Kelly, who called Erica Curtis-Nickason’s death “tragic,” offered “no comment” when asked if the town should have been more pro-active in inspecting a multiplex he admitted was “a concern.”
“It apparently has been a concern, so I heard,” he told MuskokaTODAY.com.
Notably so in a town with a history of major affordable social housing shortages Green Party candidate Marc Mantha calls a “crisis.”
“I actually knew nothing about the building at all,” said Kelly just days after the blaze that burned out six families.
“I guess those in town that are closer to the core” knew it more.
He said he went to the house the morning after the overnight fire.
“Oh, yeah. I was over there shortly after it happened — in the morning — and chatted with the fire chief.”
But he said he hadn’t heard from any the other town councillors — or members of the community — in the two immediate days following the fire.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what the protocol is” for inspecting homes, apartment buildings and businesses.
“Maybe it’s an important lesson for everybody in this process that a lot of these homes that are being converted in to various apartments” receive follow-up inspections in the future.
“We may need someone to check them out periodically, particularly with those that have apartments in them.
“But, again, it’s a question of process and what they do and how they go about inspections,” said Kelly.
“What I do know is that when these apartments are put in to these buildings there is a building inspection that goes along with it.” And “the building department does do an inspection before they give a permit.
“But after it happens — is there a protocol or process for checking up periodically? I guess it’s something we need to review.”
Kelly added: “I don’t know. It may very well be that there is that process in place that they do periodically. But I don’t know the past,” said the mayor elected in 2018.
When challenged on whether he will commit to how town fire, building and planning staff monitor homes, apartments and multiplex housing units for safety, Kelly said: “Yeah, think it’s important. Yeah, I think it’s worthwhile, absolutely.”
Kelly said that he was aware of a more proactive approach in Huntsville just days after Gravenhurst’s fire, in which Huntsville and Lake of Bays firefighters went door-to-door with safety information following a structure fire there blamed on illegal daytime burning.
Kelly said “I suspect it’s been precipitated by what happened here.”
“They’re a reminder to everyone regarding safety and security.”
Asked about affordable housing and town challenges around a recent small townhouse project on Bethune Drive two blocks from the First Street fire, in which the town was accused by the developer about tying him up in red tape, Kelly said “there’s always two sides to a story.”
He added “there’s a whole lot more to that story” about zoning and renovating an existing building.
Asked if he could give assurance to the community that another tragedy like this won’t happen again, Kelly said: “I don’t think we can assure anybody of anything.
“But I think what we can do is review the practices of how and when and how regularly we can do inspections of buildings and apartments. And how frequently they get checked by building officials or the fire department.”
He said the town “often reviews policies, procedures and protocols.”
“I certainly will review that with Jared (Fire Chief Cayley) and Andy (chief building official Jones).”
Jones said this morning he hadn’t heard from the mayor, “no, he hasn’t followed up with me.
“But typically there wouldn’t be any reason for him to follow up with us. Because the fire department has more rights under their act than we do to enter existing buildings. So if there is a reason to enter they may bring us along. Building departments are required for whatever orders they’re going to put on. … So I’m not sure if the mayor and fire chief have discussed it.”
Jones did say there is an “unsafe order” on the building.
He said town bylaw is working with owner Al Morrow’s insurance company to decide whether the building can “be repaired to a safe condition or removed.”
“Most of it would not be.”
He’s not sure, but said similar fires have led to demolition.
You can clearly see that the roof is pretty much all gone and “typically because of the smoke and water damage there wouldn’t be much that is salvageable in a residential house.”
So, it “could be weeks” to decide.
And Jones wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the value of the home.
He said “in today’s world that’s hard to say. It’s probably worth more than we think it would be worth, quite honestly, the way real estate prices went.
“I would be just guessing. But it wouldn’t be cheap” to rebuild.
Jones said “there was no building orders on it. And there was no current bylaw orders on it.”
He said “we’ve been there a couple of times with bylaw just for debris in the yard and things like that. But things got cleaned up without any charges.”
And he hasn’t heard from fire officials about any cause.
As well occupant are still hoping to “get some stuff out of there” that may be salvageable.
“And right now they aren’t able to enter until it’s safe.”
That includes Jones, too, who hasn’t yet been able to enter the building.
Kelly agreed under the Municipal Act it’s up to the mayor and council to ensure the safe operation of the town and that staff are doing their jobs as the public and taxpayers expect.
“Well, that’s right. The council directs the CAO, who directs the staff. That’s the way it works in municipal law.”
But shouldn’t it ultimately the responsibility of a pro-active council.
He said the mayor and council give that direction to the CAO, who is expected to carry out that political will.
CAO Glen Davies is retiring from the town at the end of October to be replaced by Scott Lucas, a planner and the town’s director of community growth and development.
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