'It's very sad': Residents displaced by Gosford Blvd. fire allowed back to gather essentials

Scores of residents displaced by a major fire at a highrise residential building at 235 Gosford Blvd. in North York were granted escorted access on Sunday to gather essential items from their apartment. One person was found dead after the blaze.

Capt. Dwayne Verhey, with Toronto Fire Service, says residents were being allowed onto all but the eighth floor.

The residents were escorted in by TFS personnel holding flashlights.

"[They're entering] one apartment at a time. Two firefighters escort each group to their apartment," Verhey told CBC Toronto on Sunday.

"These people have been ousted from their homes without notice or ability to plan in advance. It is essential, I think, for any of us to be able to get our essential belongings so we're trying to expedite that and ease this as much as possible for these people."

James Morrison-Collalto/CBC

On Friday, crews battled a five-alarm fire throughout the evening and evacuated the approximately 700 residents from the 15-storey building.

Since then, about half of the displaced residents have sought shelter at the nearby Driftwood Community Recreation Centre at 4401 Jane St, North York.

The displaced residents are moving Sunday to another shelter at York University.

"Today, thanks to a generous offer from York University, the emergency reception centre will move to the Tait McKenzie Centre at 1 Thompson Rd., less than two kilometres from the apartment building," the city said in a news release.

"Red Cross will continue to operate the reception centre at its new location. The TTC will assist with transporting the residents to the new location," it continues.

James Morrison-Collalto/CBC

The city says the reception centre is pet-friendly and will offer meals, cots and blankets, washrooms and showers, secure storage of personal belongings, animal care for pets and service animals and personal services such as hygiene kits and mental health support.

In a statement emailed to CBC News on Sunday, a spokesperson for York University said the thoughts of the entire school community are with the people affected by the fire, and with the family of the victim.

"York values our important place within our surrounding community and we are pleased to be able to offer assistance," acting chief spokesperson Yanni Dagonas wrote.

"We have offered to make emergency shelter space available in the Tait Mackenzie Centre building and are working with the City of Toronto and the Red Cross to determine if there are any other needs we can accommodate." 

Michael Charles Cole/CBC

Some residents had complained that the Driftwood Community Recreation Centre was extremely cold, but Coun. Anthony Perruzza, Ward 7, Humber River-Black Creek, says that would not be at issue at the Tait McKenzie Centre.

"They will be more comfortable there. I think that was always the plan from the first day," Perruzza told CBC Toronto.

He said provisions will also be made to have a spill-over site at the City of Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University if needed.

Perruzza said he will be pushing the landlord to get up to speed on his repairs and to move people back into the building as soon as possible.

Building is privately owned

The city says 235 Gosford Blvd. is privately-owned and the property management company is working with the appropriate authorities, engineers and restoration experts to assess damage to the building and to restore the building as quickly as possible.

The city is also in discussion with the school boards to facilitate travel for children staying at the reception centre.

(James Morrison-Collalto/CBC

Brendan Browne, executive superintendent for the TDSB, Learning Centre 2 and 3 and Scarborough, said affected families should send their children to school so the board can help them.

He said the TDSB may be able to provide buses or cab fares so that children can attend school.

"We definitely want families to come to school tomorrow so that we can find out what they need," Browne told CBC Toronto on Sunday.

"When we know how we can support, we as a school board as well as the amazing communities around here will be rallying around to try and provide whatever support we can to families."

Cause of fire still unknown

Meanwhile, investigators are still working to determine the cause of Friday's fire. Verhey said he expects "based on passed experiences, it could be anywhere from a week to a month or more" before residents will be able to move back into the building.

James Morrison-Collalto/CBC

Samantha Beech, a displaced resident, says she's still traumatized from the experience. 

"Right now I'm very hopeless, homeless, everything in one. I must say it's very sad," she told CBC Toronto.

James Morrison-Collalto/CBC

"It was terrifying. I was like, 'God, please save us' because it was a very scary thing to see, especially when you have kids there. I was trembling. Even now my legs are still shaking from that night. I'm really traumatized."