Fire guts Ontario Hockey Academy dorm

Flames shoot from the roof of the Ontario Hockey Academy dorm on Vincent Massey Drive in Cornwall, Ont. The fire started in one of the dormitory rooms and gutted the building. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL — City firefighters spent early Friday morning monitoring the Ontario Hockey Academy dormitory for hot spots and spot fires after an intense blaze gutted the structure.

The fire started in the back of the rooming house of the private hockey school around 6:40 p.m. Thursday at 1541 Vincent Massey Drive and quickly spread to the rest of the brick building.

A witness tells Cornwall Newswatch he drove around the back of the building and saw a huge ball of flames.

“When we arrived on scene the fire was fairly advanced in the unit of origin with flames licking up into the attic space and from there the entire attic. Once the flames broke through, with the northeast wind, (it) really intensified it and it worked its way through most of the southern part of the building’s roof section which made it extremely difficult to fight,” Platoon Chief Pierre Baril told Cornwall Newswatch.

The initial platoon arrived within three minutes and Baril said the initial attack was very impressive effort. “We have to give credit to the crews. They tried an aggressive interior attack and they did manage to get into the fire unit. We had reports on the initial onset of the call they weren’t sure if that room had been checked,” Baril said.

“The crews made their way into the unit as well the two adjoining units. Nobody was found which was a Godsend because the chances of survival in those three units were slim to nine,” the platoon chief said.

It’s not known what exactly started the fire in the dorm room.

Students and staff congregated in a safe area away from the building as firefighters did their work.

The Cornwall Fire Department called in three waves of firefighters (three alarms) and then called in every off-duty firefighter that was available (a general alarm). Once the crews were exhausted, Baril said they called in about a dozen South Stormont firefighters under mutual aid. That happened around 8:30 p.m. “It was great having them to give us a help,” Baril said.

The attack on the fire lasted for roughly five hours with firefighters set up outside a collapse zone. In fact, there were a couple brick wall collapses during the fire fight.

Cornwall police were on site to control massive crowds and traffic and the Cornwall/SDG Paramedic Service (EMS) was also on site as a precaution.

There were no reported injuries.

The Heritage Manor, west of the OHA, was also evacuated to the neighbouring hotel as a precaution.

Earlier in the evening, Red Cross Emergency Response Team Site Manager Don Daugherty told CNW their team of eight was doing a health assessment of the students and staff.

“We’ve been told that everybody’s in good shape. So now, we are going to talk to the owner. He states he’s got the accommodation at the Ramada. So, we’re going to get then into rooms, calmed down, and then we’re going to do an individual needs assessment,” Daugherty said.

OHA Director Giles Lascelle said everyone was safe and accounted for.

“We have 90 students, ten staff that are here at the moment. It’s the last few days of school so they were planning on going home in the next few days. We are going to have to figure out what we’re going to do with them. Just take care of them, going to have to try to get them home, they’re from Europe,” Giles Lascelle told CNW.

“We are doing the best that we can and what we can do. Everybody has been very supportive though,” Lascelle said.

Firefighters didn’t wrap up on the scene until roughly 11:30 p.m.

“It was a very difficult fire given the nature of the design of the double-roofs,” Platoon Chief Pierre Baril said.

“I’ve really got to commend our initial crew. The guys did an outstanding job. When you see fires like this in bigger centers, they fight fires with 40, 50 and 60 people and tonight we did an initial attack with 13 men. We were able to get a primary search through the entire building prior to going to a defensive attack. So it’s just a testament to the guys here that they work very hard for the City of Cornwall,” he said.

Click on an image below to open a gallery of images from the fire.

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