Cause of downtown fire is undetermined; council to decide fate of damaged buildings Tuesday

While fire officials have not found a cause for the Good Friday fire in downtown Whitby, motorists should prepare for traffic headaches as Brock Street remains closed because of the fire, and road work starts on Henry Street.

Brock south of Dundas Street has re-opened to pedestrian traffic after the April 3 fire but the road between Dundas and Colborne streets remains closed to vehicle traffic while a decision is made on the fate of the damaged buildings.

Starting Tuesday, April 7, the Region of Durham starts several months of work on Henry Street, which means road closures throughout the spring and summer, beginning with the section between Burns and Trent streets.

This means sections of two major north-south roads through Whitby’s downtown will be closed, as a section of Brock remains closed due to the massive fire that damaged several historic buildings just south of Dundas Street.

Fire officials have wrapped up their investigation into the blaze that broke out about 2 a.m. in the basement of Jimmy O’Toole’s Pub at 121 Brock St. S. The cause has been ruled undetermined.

“The fire marshal’s office came in to conduct a fire investigation and they were unable to get down to the basement safely so they’ve completed their fire investigation and they won’t be able to determine the cause,” said Whitby Fire Chief Dave Speed.

Firefighters from Whitby, Oshawa and Ajax spent hours battling the fire, which spread to two adjacent buildings, 119 Brock St. S., which is home to the Pita Pit, and 123 Brock St. S. The buildings each had apartments located above the businesses. Damage is estimated at $1 million.

By Saturday, workers had pulled the fencing back on Brock Street South limiting fencing to the three buildings directly affected by the fire. The road is now open to pedestrian traffic but remains closed to vehicular traffic.

An in-camera meeting has been called for Tuesday night for Whitby council to decide whether to preserve the brick facades of the affected buildings or tear them down.

“One way or another the wall has to be removed or has to be supported before the street can be opened up so once they make their decision, then we can start moving in that direction and then hopefully open the street up sooner rather than later,” said Chief Speed.

Several businesses and at least 23 residents have been impacted by the fire. Red Cross and the Region of Durham are working to accommodate the displaced tenants while the Town has provided tips for affected property owners on its website.

“Between the Red Cross and Durham Region they’ll be trying to find alternative accommodation for those who can’t find it themselves,” said Bob Petrie, chief administrative officer at the Town of Whitby.

“In terms of what’s happened with the various businesses, particularly along the east side, they’ll be working with their insurers to affect repairs and get the hydro back on for some and structural repairs and demolition for others, I suspect.”

While Brock Street remains closed, drivers can get around the downtown core using alternate routes, added Mr. Petrie.

“There are a number of routes that people use to get through the downtown so coming south from the north there’s Mary Street that will go around … and coming north obviously Colborne (Street) is still open, as are several streets before you get to Colborne,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that the incident has occurred. We value our heritage downtown and we value our businesses downtown so it’s unfortunate that it’s interrupted the businesses down there and we’d like to see everything open and running again as soon as possible.”

Source: Durham Region