Tossed cigarette sparked 200 Wellesley fire
Published On Sat Sep 24 2011, The Toronto Star
Donovan Vincent, Staff Reporter
The full Ontario Fire Marshal report into last September’s blaze on the 24th floor of 200 Wellesley St. pinpoints exactly where the cigarette that lit the inferno came from — it was flicked from the balcony directly above.
The report also blasts Greenwin Property Management, the former operator of the Toronto Community Housing building, for failing to remedy a hoarding problem in the apartment that caught fire.
The 55-page report, obtained by the Star, points out that a resident in a unit on the 25th floor smoked a cigarette, flicked the butt off the balcony and shortly afterward saw smoke on the balcony below.
After seeing it, the four occupants in the upper unit fled their apartment and pulled the fire alarm, the report says.
An earlier one-page release on the cause of the Sept. 24 fire, issued by the Fire Marshal in July, did not provide these specifics, only identifying the cause as a “discarded cigarette.”
The report also notes that Stephen Vassilev, the resident in the unit where the fire started and whom neighbours and investigators have identified as a hoarder, complained to TCHC on April 16, 2009 about the neighbour in the unit above “throwing broken bottle and cigarette butts on his balcony.”
More than 1,200 residents, many suffering physical and mental health ailments, were displaced from their homes for weeks and months as a result of last fall’s six-alarm blaze.
The Fire Marshal’s report pegs the damage at just over $1 million.
The report notes that Vassilev had belongings — including bundles of newspapers, an air conditioner unit, plastic bags, plastic containers, shoes, cardboard, tarps and bikes — crammed on his balcony. The debris was stacked 24 inches (61 centimetres) above the balcony railing, the report notes.
A neighbour took a picture of the mess 13 days before the fire.
The inside of Vassilev’s unit was also filled with items including papers he claims were part of a legal case involving his former real estate holdings in Elliot Lake in Northern Ontario. Vassilev, who TCHC has decided not to allow back to 200 Wellesley but do allow in another TCHC unit, says that while he feels bad for the other victims, he’s “not responsible’’ for the blaze.
The full Fire Marshal report was obtained by the Star after it obtained a signed release from one of the tenants who lived on the same floor as Vassilev. The office had refused to issue the report publicly, citing privacy concerns.
The report also takes aim at Greenwin for failing to take immediate steps to remedy the hoarding issue in Vassilev’s apartment.
The report notes that on Aug. 9, 2010, just more than a month before the fire, a Greenwin representative and an official with Toronto Public Health inspected Vassilev’s unit. The Greenwin employee told the public health official that “no action was necessary” because the unit was hoarded with papers that were “not considered a safety issue” and the situation was “acceptable” under regulations, a conclusion the Fire Marshal investigator calls “alarming.”
That’s curious given that the previous year on Oct. 16, 2009 Greenwin issued a statement to Vassilev telling him his unit was packed with items that created a “serious safety and fire hazardous condition.”
After the fire, TCHC terminated Greenwin’s contract to manage 200 Wellesley.
A class-action suit has since been launched by hundreds of residents against TCHC and Greenwin in which the residents claim the two entities were aware of the hoarding problem in Vassilev’s apartment, but failed to fix the problem.
TCHC has also filed a claim against Greenwin and is seeking damages related to the fire.
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