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'Intense' rescue operation: 1 missing, 9 injured in Old Montreal fire

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In what firefighters are calling a "very intense" rescue operation, at least one person is missing, and nine others injured in a five-alarm fire in Old Montreal.

"When firefighters first arrived, there were flames coming out the windows. There were several people trapped in windows, on the roof. There were at least four people rescued with ground ladders. Other people rescued by aerial ladders on the roof," said Richard Liebmann, chief director of the Montreal fire department.

One person leaped from the second floor of the three-storey building on the corner of du Port Street and Place d'Youville

More than 120 firefighters battled the blaze and helped the trapped victims. 

"Our first priority is always to save lives. It was a very intense rescue operation at the beginning," said Liebmann. "We did everything we can to try to help the people as quickly as possible."

The missing person may have been a short-term renter and is therefore difficult to track down, but it also means other short-term renters could be missing.

"We don't know how many other people may be missing because several apartments were also Airbnb rentals," said Liebmann.

Investigators from both the fire department and Montreal police are working to track down whoever may have been in the building.

More than 120 firefighters were called to a 5-alarm fire on du Port Street and Place d'Youville in Montreal's Old Port on March 16, 2023. (CTV News/Olivia O'Malley)

Liebmann said that nine people were transported to the hospital: three in serious condition and six with "relatively minor" injuries. None of the injuries are life-threatening injuries.

 One firefighter was evaluated for contamination after getting blood from one of the victims in his eyes, but no other firefighters were injured.

The blaze began around 5:45 a.m. Around 7:30 a.m. firefighters were focused largely on preventing the fire from spreading to nearby buildings.

"That's why we have [so] many firefighters on the scene," said Martin Guilbault, operations chief for the Montreal fire department (SSIM).

"We went into defensive fire attack to try and preserve the surrounding buildings to make sure there's no fire spread to adjacent buildings," added Liebmann.

By 9 a.m., most of the flames were extinguished.

Guilbault said it's "too early" to determine the cause of the fire.  

More than 120 firefighters were called to a 5-alarm fire on du Port Street and Place d'Youville in Montreal's Old Port on March 16, 2023. (Sofia Ajram)

Stephanie Hlavin, a tourist from North Carolina, was staying at a neighbouring hotel when the fire broke out.

"At first, you're like, 'Oh, it's just another hotel alarm' -- I've been in one many times before. But we smelled smoke, so we just got up, scrambled, went outside," she recounted.

"Immediately, the smoke was really overwhelming. We had to move down the street. It was really frightening."

Liebmann issued a reminder to ensure smoke detectors are functioning and people react when they go off.

"We really want to emphasize the importance of smoke alarms, being warned as early as possible when there's smoke or fire to have the time to get out," he said. "Fire can spread very, very quickly in any type of building, so we want to make sure that people have as much time as possible to get out."

It's unclear if the building, built in 1890, is a total loss, but the roof collapsed, and the interior was destroyed.

"We've got structural engineers that are coming in. we're going to do everything we can to save what's left of the building," said Liebmann. "We understand the historical value of the building and its importance."

No adjacent buildings were damaged. 

 

With files from CTV's Olivia O'Malley and Matt Grillo

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