An early-morning fire that tore through a Hamilton townhouse complex destroyed or severely damaged 11 units and potentially left dozens of people without a home, officials said Monday.
The multialarm inferno erupted on Edenrock Drive in the city’s east side around 2:40 a.m. and quickly enveloped multiple units, the he Hamilton Fire Department said.
Video footage from the scene showed towering flames and thick smoke billowing into the night sky.
Authorities are unsure at this point what caused the fire, but Ontario Fire Marshal investigator Manny Garcia said it began as an exterior fire then spread through the roof lining of the townhouse block.
He added that the units were so badly damaged that there is concern the entire structure could cave in on itself.
“The mortar is compromised, the walls behind it are compromised, and quite frankly, it could collapse at any time,” Garcia told reporters at the scene Monday morning.
Garcia said the blaze was almost fully extinguished by 10 a.m., with fire crews dousing a few remaining hot spots.
He could not confirm how many people had been displaced by the fire, but estimated anywhere between 40 and 80 people were living in the units.
Just a few doors down from the smouldering units, 28-year-old Antonio Neglia said he had been having trouble sleeping and had called up a friend to pass the time when his friend mentioned the sound of sirens in the background.
“I didn’t really think anything of it,” Neglia said, noting the presence of a fire station just down the street.
But after checking the Hamilton Fire Department’s Twitter page, Neglia realized the fire was nearby. Peering out his window, he noticed an orange glow dancing off the reflection of a construction trailer across the street.
Immediately, Neglia ran downstairs and opened his door. To his left, he saw flames bursting from windows that were just a few dozen metres from his home.
Within minutes, he and his fiancé had grabbed their pets and got in the car. Not wanting to take a chance on their lives, the couple left all their possessions behind.
“Immediately I thought, ‘We’re getting married in the next few weeks – what actually matters in the house?’” Neglia said.
“Obviously a TV doesn’t matter as much as your life, so we just grabbed all of the living things and hoped for the best.”
Earlier, Hamilton Fire Chief Dave Cunliffe told a news conference that all the units were occupied but there had been no reports of injuries, either among the residents or firefighters.
He said the end portion of a block of three units was fully engulfed when fire crews arrived around 3 a.m. and that strong winds fanned the flames, causing the fire to quickly spread to a second block containing eight units.
Cunliffe added that the destruction could have been even worse.
“Crews made a valiant effort and were able to stop this fire before it got to the third block of eight units to the north. That was done through the use of high-volume water streams and aerial operations,” he said.
Damage from the blaze is expected to run into the millions of dollars.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.