BRANTFORD, A Brantford resident is calls out to Six Nations for help on behalf of her neighbours after a fire on Helen Ave. displaced 16 families, many with young children, last week, just before school is about to start.
Suzan Alvernaz and her son Nicholas live in the stricken building but were not affected buy it personally. But many of her neighbours were and she wants to help.
In the wee hours of Friday, August 16th, at around 1 am, a intentionally started fire destroyed the entire fifth floor of her apartment block and damaged others above and below.
It’s been almost two weeks since residents of the Graham Bell Apartments located at 28 Helen Ave., in Brantford, were evacuated and they still can not return to their homes.
The apartment block has been the target of an arsonist or arsonists as many as five times over the past 30 days, according to one resident. But this was, by far, the most dangerous. It could easily have taken several lives if not for the quick action of Brantford Fire fighters and residents themselves who helped evacuate the burning building.
The fifth floor was completely destroyed and water and smoke damage was evident on the fourth and sixth floors.
Luckily, a resident out late walking his dog that morning happened to glanced back towards the apartment block and noticed fire on the fifth floor. He quickly returned to the building and pull the fire alarm which could easily have saved many lives.
According to eyewitnesses, many fifth floor residents, some with small children, tried to escape their apartments, but were stopped by a thick wall of smoke in the hallway and instead went to their balconies and called for help as firefighters arrived. In total, 16 apartments were destroyed or seriously damaged.
The fire was contained to the fifth floor and all residents got out with their lives, although 12 were sent to Brantford General Hospital with smoke inhalation and later released.
But there is more to this story that some residents are becoming quite impatient with, and who can blame them?
On August 16th, a similar early morning series of fires had Brantford Firefighters at the same apartment building to deal with ceiling tiles deliberately set ablaze near the garbage shoots of third and sixth floors, along with the contents of a garbage bin in the basement.
On August 1st, police were alerted to a pile of papers in the elevator which had been set afire but burned out without damage to the elevator or the building.
Police are investigating these incidents but have not revealed if they have anyone in custody for any of the fires they describe as “suspicious”.
Residents of the building say, off the record, that a couch that was in the hallway was pushed in front of the elevator and set on fire using some form of excellent which was also spread down the hallway of the entire floor.
When firefighters arrived, they encountered a thick wall of black smoke which filled the fifth floor hallway from ceiling to floor.
Many residents remained on their balconies while the fire was put out after about an hour, and the hallways cleared of smoke. But they were ordered to leave and were put up for a few days in area hotels. Others went to stay with friends or relatives.
As of Monday morning, however, the entire fifth floor was still locked up and security guards put in place to disallow anyone from entering the floor. Residents of all other floors could return, but the fifth floor was still totally off limits.
Some residents have become so intimidated by the rash of arsons in the building that they have either moved out or intend to move just as soon as they are allowed back into their homes to assess the damage.
Suzan Alvernaz and her son have lived in the building since 1999 and know many of their neighbours, especially those who like them, have been in the Helen Street block for years.
“It’s like a community here,” she says. “People have come and gone, but those who have been here for a while feel a part of it.”
She said she has felt heartbroken for her neighbours, some with small children and animals, who suddenly have found themselves with nowhere to live and no possessions.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” she told the Two Row Times. “But I just felt I had to do something. They can’t get back into their apartments to see how much damage was done to their personal possessions and how much they will have to replace.”
Especially with back-to-school only days away, many of the children affected only have the clothes and whatever items they had with them when they were evacuated from their apartments and had their leases canceled.
“Some probably left their wallets or purses and any money they may have had,” adds Nicholas. “The management company was told after the last fires that for under $10,000 they could have installed video surveillance throughout the building, but it never happened. Now how much is it going to cost them?”
Suzan and Kelly MacNaughton, owner of Icky’s Variety and Tobacco on Second Line Road, Six Nations, have known each other for many years. She told Kelly about the situation last Saturday and, through her, is asking Six Nations for help. MacNaughton contacted the Two Row Times and asked if we could help get the word out.
“I stopped at reserve and talked to Kelly,” she says. “She gave me a lot of cigarettes to distribute to the families. I know it’s something small, but many of these people have no money. If they had any, it is locked in their apartments which they can’t get to.
“I have just begun and have some donations of cloths and a few other things,” says Alvernaz “The building manager let me use a storage room on the main floor to gather donated stuff.”
Any donations are welcome but Alvernaz is uncomfortable accepting cash donations and suggests donations of that kind be made at Victims Services Brant at 519-752-3307, or dropped off at 344 Elgin Street, Brantford.
Victim Services of Brant is a non-profit, community based agency which assists police, fire and other emergency services in providing emotional and practical assistance to victims of crime, tragic circumstances and disaster.
Donations are also being accepted through the Brantford Red Cross, who have been helping the displaced families find lodging and food.
Alvernaz will also be at the 28 Helen Ave apartment block on the main level to receive donation for her neighbours Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 6 pm and 10 pm.