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BEYOND LOCAL: Cats saved from building days after fire breaks out

People are asked to continue staying away from the area

Days after a fire broke out at a historic building in downtown Timmins, the fire chief is optimistic that it's out. Four cats have also been saved from the apartments.

The last time that smoke, sparks or flames were seen at the Empire Complex was around 1 or 2 a.m. today (March 25), said Timmins Fire Chief Berny Stansa. 

The blaze had been burning since the early afternoon of Saturday, March 23.

An engineering report today allowed Stansa, the chief building official and city engineer to go through the building. 

"And it seems to be structurally sound so he's gonna give us a report saying that. There's one or two areas of concern that we're gonna have to just stay away from, but the rest of the building is fairly sound. There's water damage, of course, everywhere," he said. 

Fire crews are still on site, collecting any tools or equipment left behind when firefighters had to switch their focus on Saturday from fighting the fire to evacuating all of the people, he said. 

"And we're going room to room with a thermal image camera ... to check for fire extension to make sure that you know, we got everything out there was supposed to be out," he said. 

There's also good news for some pet owners. 

Today, at least two cats were retrieved from apartments, said Stansa.

Altogether four cats were saved, according to the Timmins Professional Firefighters on Facebook.

The large brick structure has been a fixture on the corner of Spruce Street and Algonquin since the 1920s.

The Empire Hotel opened in 1925 and later became the Empire Complex, operating as an apartment building. 

Its future is still uncertain. 

Stansa said that the insurance company's assessment will determine what happens to it. 

"There's water damage in pretty well every apartment. As you can imagine, we put well over a million gallons of water on that building," he said, adding that at times the water was probably several inches thick in the hallways. 

The building has four floors and the fire started on the fourth floor. 

One of the challenges for the fire crews is that there are two roofs on the building. When the fire went between the two, he said they couldn't get at the fire.

For the water to be effective, Stansa said they had to wait for the fire to burn through.

The cause of the fire is still unknown. 

Stansa said that the fire prevention officer is investigating and taking statements from tenants.

The building had around 80 apartments. Some of the residents displaced by the fire are temporarily being housed at the Bon-Air Motel. 

Donations of cash and clothing are being collected. 

SEE: Here's how to help people affected by Timmins apartment building fire

Cash donations can be made through Service Timmins, which is located in city hall at 220 Algonquin Blvd. E. 

You can stop by in person or e-transfer [email protected] with the note in the message saying EMPIRE. Donations over $20 are eligible for a tax receipt. To get the receipt, you must send an email that is clearly marked Empire Complex to [email protected] with the donor's name and address.

Donations of clothing, hygiene and sanitary items can be dropped off at three locations. Food items are not being accepted, but Service Timmins will prioritize. A portion of the donations to buy food from local sources for those impacted.

St. Vincent de Paul at 85 Spruce St. N. is open for donations on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Second Time Around, 260 Third Ave., is accepting donations Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Something Special Boutique in Spruce Hill Lodge, 200 Bruce Ave. in South Porcupine, is taking donations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday.

The roads in the area are still closed

People are asked to continue staying away from the area. 

"There's ... huge icicles all over the hydro lines and people are walking there, we have a barricaded off. And we've got caution tape and people are walking underneath the caution tape and around the barricades. They have to be away from that area, it's not safe yet because of all the icicles," he said.