Thames St. fire update

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Firefighters battle a Thames Street blaze Saturday afternoon that sent toxic smoke spewing into the sky and forced the temporary evacuation of several nearby homes.

Chatham-Kent firefighters battled stubborn flames and toxic smoke in downtown Chatham on Saturday.

Fire broke out at a Thames Street building that housed Church’s Army and Outdoor Military Surplus, as well as a hot tub shop in the back.

According to reports, the fire began about 1 p.m. Everyone in the building got out safely, officials say.

As smoke began to spew from the building, firefighters knocked in a window to gain access. The added oxygen quickly sent flames surging through the roof, and spectators reported hearing at least one explosion inside the building.

Almost 60 firefighters were on scene from three stations applying water from all angles; as the fire developed in the roof and the walls.

“Luckily fires of this magnitude rarely happen in our community, however it is something that our firefighters train for and are highly skilled in dealing with this type of incident,” says Assistant Fire Chief Chris Case said in a release. “They utilized their aerial apparatus to apply water from above and were able to contain the fire.”

Police and fire officials had to move the gathering crowd back repeatedly as the wind swirled and the smoke, which officials said was toxic, snaked through nearby streets, alleys and parking lots.

Several nearby homes were temporarily evacuated, and fire officials asked nearby residents to remain indoors and turn off their air conditioners.

The fire gutted the building, and the area remained cordoned off through Monday morning, as the Office of the Fire Marshall investigated the scene.

The day following the fire, C-K fire personnel took to the streets near the scene of the fire as part of their After the Fire – Reassurance Campaign. Firefighters visited more than 30 homes in Chatham’s downtown core after many were asked during Saturday’s fire to shelter-in-place and several families were evacuated.

Firefighters went door-to-door reminding those residing in the area about the importance of having working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and a regularly practiced home escape plan.

“Saturday we were asking people to stay in their homes because of the amount of smoke in the area, so firefighters also reinforced messages about how to shelter-in-place and the importance of having a 72-hour emergency kit,” Whitney Burk, public educator for C-K Fire, said in a release.

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