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Exclusive: Charges laid in TCH apartment fire where 3 seniors died

Last Updated Feb 23, 2016 at 7:17 pm EST

A charge has been been laid against Toronto Community Housing stemming from a fatal apartment fire that occurred on Feb. 5 in which three seniors were killed.

Multiple sources confirm to CityNews that TCH has been charged with having combustible material at a point of egress, which comes with a maximum fine of $100,000. In layman’s terms, there was something that could catch fire at an exit point. It is not a criminal charge.

Firefighters say there was combustible furniture in the building’s hallway that potentially blocked exits from the building.

Fifteen people were taken to hospital after fire broke out on the top floor of the five-storey TCH building on Neilson Road. It is believed the fire was caused by careless smoking on a couch in the hallway.

Ninety-year-old Charles Roberts and his 72-year-old wife Hyacinth died in the blaze. They had been married for 51 years. Their bodies were found in the fifth-floor hallway.

The third victim was 86-year-old Azeema Safraj. Her daughter had previously sent an email to Tom Koufis, Senior Community Housing Superintendent at TCH, addressing serious complaints about the building.

“The wallpaper is torn and falling off the walls,” she wrote in an email dated June 18, 2014. “This poses a safety issue since many of the residents smoke (in the hallway) and this could be catastrophic should it accidentally catch onto the wallpaper hanging off the wall or lying on the floor. This problem needs to be addressed urgently since it’s accident waiting to happened [sic]. Most of the seniors are not mobile and should there be a fire most of them will be trapped in their apartments.”

The building on Nielson Road caters to people 59 years old and older, but is not classified as a seniors home and thus does not have to pass the same, strict provincial fire regulations as a seniors or retirement homes.

According to TCH records, the building was last inspected for fire safety in 2013. Under the Fire Code, buildings that are classified as seniors homes must undergo annual fire inspections.

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According to firefighters at the scene, residents had to be evacuated from the building through windows in their suites because smoke from the fire was so thick in the fifth-floor hallway.

“The smoke was so thick, a healthy young person couldn’t have got through,” Toronto Fire Captain David Eckerman said, noting that the smoke can be filled with carcinogens and carbon monoxide.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has previously said it is important that all TCH buildings adhere to established fire codes.

“I certainly will be registering with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation how much I am concerned, as the Mayor of Toronto, about making sure that the standards that are set today and that do apply to the Toronto Community Housing are met,” Tory said Friday. “Because I think that while we have many challenges in front of us, as you’ve heard me say many times in terms of repairing these buildings and putting them in a better way so people can have a more comfortable life. I think the number one thing we have to make sure is that they have a safe life.”

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