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Fire chief commends firefighters, community members following Queen Street blaze (4 photos)

Investigation to determine cause of fire underway

The investigation into the fire that destroyed buildings in the 200 block of Queen Street East Thursday is underway.

It's currently being carried out as a joint effort between the Ontario Fire Marshal, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service and the local fire department in order to determine the cause of the blaze.

Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services Chief Peter Johnson says the fire department’s tactical and operations staff were vacated from the scene Thursday.

“We did maintain a person on scene in conjunction with police services to ensure scene continuity, but an all clear has not been given until the investigation in complete,” Johnson said while speaking with SooToday at the scene Friday. “We still maintain the scene.”

Johnson says the fire - which took several hours to tame - was a taxing experience for the firefighters on scene, working in a polar vortex.

“It was hard to operate in for them - it does play a factor on the equipment,” said Johnson. “Any time you’re out in negative-26 and water, it’s not the best combination.”

As workers wrestle with a frozen fire hose on Queen Street, Johnson says it’ll be a process to get all the firefighting gear used to battle the blaze back in working order, as the fire department works on thawing out hoses and other assorted pieces of equipment.

“We have a process that we have to do to get all of our equipment back in service, and it’s going through that right now,” he said.  

In all, 34 firefighters were deployed Thursday.

“We also have other calls that come in for the city in our daily business as well, so we had to make sure that we had staff available to take other emergency calls within the city at the same time,” Johnson said. “So we did call in additional firefighters to help on scene, as well as to staff other units to ensure that we have the proper response protocols for other calls that might have come in.”

Johnson says that none of his staff were injured while fighting the massive blaze.

“I’m sure there might be some sore bodies when they woke up this morning,” he said. “But the firefighters here did an exceptional job, and we’re very thankful for their work and commitment to the service, and to the community.”

Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services would like to thank the work of everyone who pitched in to help during the ‘tragic event,’ - from PUC, Department of Public Works, Sault Ste. Marie Transit Services and those community members looking to lend a hand.

“A lot of the community people provided us beverages, refreshments and food,” said Johnson. “We’re very thankful for that, for the community outreach.”

“This was a total team effort.”