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Seniors want better security at community housing building hit by 2 fires

Firefighters work in the falling snow following a fire at Gladstone Terrace, the first of two set at the building in nine days. (Scott Stilborn/Ottawa Fire Services - image credit)
Firefighters work in the falling snow following a fire at Gladstone Terrace, the first of two set at the building in nine days. (Scott Stilborn/Ottawa Fire Services - image credit)

Residents at a social housing complex for seniors, many of whom have mobility issues, are shaken by two suspicious fires in their building and they're fearful another fire may have deadly consequences.

Gladstone Terrace, a six-storey apartment building with 124 units located in Ottawa's Little Italy neighborhood, had two fires in the span of nine days in November.

Patty Chan, 67, was in her apartment Sunday, Nov. 27, waiting for her daughter to take her for cataract surgery when the last fire broke out.

She safely escaped the building but her daughter Angela Lu, who had just arrived when her mom exited the building, was alarmed by how black her medical mask was, inside and out.

"That's how much smoke was in the staircase," said Lu. "It was definitely very scary."

Felix Desroches/CBC
Felix Desroches/CBC

Fellow resident Catherine Munroe said the first fire on Nov. 19, which spread on the sixth floor, ended up trapping her inside.

"The smoke came too fast on the fifth floor in the first fire. I had an 88-year-old neighbour who was in the hallway so I took her back into her apartment and we stayed there," she said.

Others in the seniors-only building said those in wheelchairs, or others who use walkers, had to be carried out by firefighters and some were rescued from balconies during the first fire.

Munroe now lives in fear, she said, of alarms ringing out and her "getting trapped and dying."

Laura Glowacki/CBC
Laura Glowacki/CBC

Ottawa police investigating 

The Ottawa police arson unit is investigating the two fires at Gladstone Terrace, which they call "suspicious."

The first fire displaced 40 residents on the sixth floor and sent two people to hospital with minor injuries. The second fire, which was on the second floor, sent two people in their 70s to hospital for smoke inhalation. Several people were also treated on scene by paramedics.

Ottawa police said it doesn't yet know whether the two fires were connected and have not announced any arrests.

On the second floor, CBC observed crews cleaning soot off the walls and ceiling outside the elevators Tuesday. Residents told CBC a shopping cart and sleeping bag were lit on fire on Nov. 27 and the area smelled like acrid smoke.

Residents in the building don't know who lit the fires but some think it may have been someone trespassing. They say there are too few cameras and blame security gaps for an unsafe atmosphere.

"We've been begging for cameras and extra security for years," said Munroe, who added doors are often propped open and it's not uncommon to see people sleeping in the lobby.

Mickeala Guiguere, 61, is convinced someone is intentionally setting fires. She expects more fires unless "they do some magic over the next three days to get the cameras up and running."

Felix Desroches/CBC
Felix Desroches/CBC

Security a top priority, says OCH

Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) did not confirm whether it plans to add more cameras to the building, but said in a written statement it already has "coverage across the building."

"We work with the Ottawa Police Service to provide them with footage if they request it for their investigations. We also have community safety workers continuing proactive patrols in the community and engaging directly with tenants," the statement said.

When asked how it responds to residents who are calling for more security, OCH said safety and security are its "top priority."

The statement also said crime is "an Ottawa-wide issue."

Felix Desroches/CBC
Felix Desroches/CBC

Lu, whose mother is now recovering from her eye surgery, remains worried about her, especially now that she wears an eye patch at night.

"After her surgery, I said let's make sure you know where the fire exit is," said Lu. "I mean it's obviously the same concern for other residents in the building who are having mobility issues."