Dozens displaced after fire guts Nepean row houses

Nepean row house fire began on balcony, discarded cigarette possible cause

The Office of the Fire Marshal is now investigating the cause of a four-alarm fire that ripped through a row house complex in Nepean on Sunday, displacing as many as 75 people.

The first emergency calls came in at 12:29 p.m., with reports of flames and black smoke coming from the roof of the complex on Northview Road.

The fire damaged 32 residential units in four buildings at 32, 34, 36 and 38 Northview Rd. — 31 that were occupied and one that was vacant. 

"It is pretty devastating ... families essentially, that had their world turned upside down," said Ottawa Fire Services spokesperson Danielle Cardinal Monday.

Cardinal said while there was significant structural damage to the buildings, the fire could have been much worse.

"I'm very fortunate that I'm not reporting fatalities this morning," she said

An emergency centre was set up at a nearby apartment building at 30 Eleanor Dr. for displaced residents. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross are helping those people to find temporary housing.

One person was injured and treated on scene, according to Ottawa fire Chief Gerry Pingitore.

One resident of 32 Northview Rd. said he thought the fire alarm he heard was just a drill until someone started banging on his door.

"We grabbed a jacket and everything and ran outside and it was just a huge wall of smoke. And huge flames coming out of the middle building there," the man said. 

He said the firefighters were quick to arrive at the scene and tackle the blaze that seemed to be spreading due to high winds. 

"Luckily, my unit's fine, but there's a lot of people that, like, that entire top floor is completely out. It really sucks. I'm feeling empathetic because I know what I was feeling watching the fire move over towards my unit and hoping they got it under control and stopped it.

"I can only imagine what it's like to be standing here and watching your unit, your home, up in flames."

Winds hampered efforts

The second alarm was declared at 12:34 p.m., a third alarm at 12:41 p.m and a fourth alarm at 2:14 p.m., according to Ottawa Fire Services.

Witnesses said high winds contributed to the spread of the flames. Environment Canada recorded wind gusts approaching 30 km/h around the time of the fire.

Pingitore said the blaze was very heavy at times when firefighters arrived on scene. 

"The first fire crews to arrive were met with a fire we call wind-driven, getting into the roof and then hampering our ability to get ahead of the fire, and certainly they worked very hard to protect the properties around the building as well," he said. 

Firefighters said the building is a row house attached by two garages.

Derek Ball, who lives at the end of the rowhouse complex that was on fire, said he was among the residents displaced by the fire after his unit sustained heavy water damage. 

"It's a really stressful day. We're not really sure what's going to happen going forward. But I guess the next step is to get in touch with insurance and figure out where we're going to stay tonight," Ball said. 

"There's been a lot of people that have been displaced because of this and a lot of people are worried about where they're going to stay. Thankfully, a lot of my neighbours have family in the area but I have ran into some who have got nowhere else to go. So, they're very worried and I'm worried for them."

As of 6:30 p.m., firefighters were still on the scene trying to control the fire.

Damage is estimated at $3 million to $3.5 million. 

A fire inspector is investigating the cause.