Former Belvedere orphanage in ruins after St. John's fire

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Former Belvedere orphanage in ruins after St. John's fire

Former Belvedere orphanage in ruins after St. John's fire

Fire has gutted a vacant historic building in the centre of St. John's, forcing the closure of two nearby schools and a college, as crews worked to keep the flames from spreading.

Firefighters were called to Margaret's Place — the site of the former Belvedere orphanage — around 4 a.m. 

As smoke billowed over the city, Brother Rice and Holy Heart schools were closed, and the College of the North Atlantic shut its Prince Philip Drive campus. 

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary closed a section of Newtown Road, at Feild Street and Goodridge Street-Mayor Avenue intersections, while the fire burned through the morning.

While businesses and residents were asked to turn off their HVAC units, the fire department said late Friday afternoon that the air exchangers could be turned back on.

There are a number of newer buildings around, as well as the nearby schools, and firefighters were concerned about the flames spreading.

"We've got all of our firefighters working from the outside. It's too dangerous for us to be inside the building working, so we're hitting this from the outside with everything we've got," said Platoon Chief Robert Fowler.

Heritage building

A loader had to be brought in to clear snow that was blocking some nearby fire hydrants and firefighters had trouble fighting the fire on one side, because of a shed.

There is no word on the cause of the fire, and there is no report of any injuries.

The building, which dates back to the 1800s, had most recently been used as office space for MCP. Previously, it housed the Catholic school board offices and years ago, was the Belvedere convent and orphanage.

The building is vacant, but is registered to a numbered company, the sole director of which is businessman Craig Williams, who is also the owner of Skymark Homes and Future Group companies.

In 2014, the city voted to allow the developer to build a residential condominium on the site but while building permits were approved, there has been no activity since 2016.