Fire that darkened Saint John neighbourhood deemed suspicious

·2 min read
More than 1,500 Saint John Energy customers in uptown Saint John lost power Tuesday evening. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC News - image credit)
More than 1,500 Saint John Energy customers in uptown Saint John lost power Tuesday evening. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC News - image credit)

Fire in an apartment building in Saint John's south end has been deemed suspicious by investigators.

Firefighters were dispatched early Tuesday evening to a three-storey building at 78 St. James St., at Charlotte Street, where they found fire had spread from the basement to the roof.

They spent four hours battling the blaze, said platoon chief Josh Hennessy.

"First arriving crews reported fire at all levels of the structure," he said. "It did require significant resourcing to knock the fire down."

The building was vacant at the time, and no one was injured.

Ingrid Woodhouse/Facebook
Ingrid Woodhouse/Facebook

Some smoke spread to nearby buildings and about 1,500 customers lost power, but the fire didn't spread and power was restored within an hour.

Hennessy said fire spreads fast in older buildings because they don't have "fire stops" between floors, so the fire travels inside the walls.

Hennessy said fire and police are investigating the blaze as suspicious.

"Where it was an unoccupied building it would make it suspicious in nature," he said.

Cold temperatures a challenge

Crews fought the fire as temperatures dipped to -20 C, which felt like -30 with the windchill. Hennessy said hoses were freezing up, as well as the firefighters' respirators and even radio equipment.

"Basically anything that comes in contact with water, which is all of our equipment, has the potential to freeze."

To deal with that, Hennessy said, firefighters cycle equipment through and bring specialty crews who work on equipment and bring them back to service if they freeze.

Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC
Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC

"With a lot of it, basically rapid cycling of resources into a warm environment and back out into the elements," he said.

Hennessy said the building sustained serious damage, but he doesn't know if it's to be demolished.

A Saint John police news release said a fire department investigator and the forensic identification unit "conducted an initial examination of the scene."

Police spokesperson Sean Rocca said no roads are closed. He said if crews need to go back, St. James street could be closed again today.

The release asks anyone with information to contact police.

Not the building's first fire

The same building caught fire in 2020, when all three units were occupied by tenants, Hennessy said. He said that fire was caused by a candle, and crews had to rescue a woman from the top floor.

Hennessy said he doesn't know if the building has been vacant since that fire, but said it was vacant this year for renovations.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting