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Residents escape condo-complex fire

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Smoke and flames billowed over the St. Matthews neighbourhood this morning as fire ripped through the second and third floors of a newly renovated condo complex.

Tenants were evacuated from the building at 817 St. Paul Ave. after the fire broke out around 4 a.m. Residents were given shelter in an emergency transit bus before making arrangements to stay with family and friends. None of the seven tenants in the building was injured and they evacuated the premises before the fire unit arrived.

Firefighters using a ladder truck poured water onto the flames that licked the top of the building -- located two blocks north of Portage Avenue -- as another sprayed water in through the front windows. Four other fire trucks were on the scene.

Police closed traffic on roads including Arlington Street near the intersection of St. Matthews, and on Burnell Street near St. Paul. Both Burnell and Arlington were thick with smoke.

The cause of the fire is unknown, District Chief Al Franco said.

No one living on the premises was immediately available for comment.

Franco said he believes the fire started in the rear of the building on the second or third floor before steadily growing and moving north, but could not immediately say what caused the fire.

"It was really involved by the time we got here," said Franco. "And we’re still working on it. I have no idea when we’ll get it under control, but it’s not under control just yet."

Two firefighting ladder trucks poured water over the top of the condo complex, while a group of firefighters directed a strong stream of water through the front windows and broken glass. Four other fire trucks were on the scene by 6 a.m., with backup firefighters ready.

Water poured down on a "for sale" sign that stood out front. The site was allegedly part of a condo redevelopment project, and one of the units had recently been sold.

"It’s cooked. It’s done," said neighbourhood resident Mark Summers, who lives near the scene on Arlington Avenue and was awoken by the calamity. He said he watched the building reconstruction, and the building that burned was one of three that had been recently renovated.

Coming out for "a bootwalk" to check out the scene, Summers said that when he arrived near 6 a.m., most of the roof was burned. Pieces from the top of the orange brick building fell intermittently from the blasting water and heat and firefighters eventually removed some debris from nearby power lines.

Franco was unable to estimate the damage to the building. Later in the afternoon the building had partially collapsed. Firefighters reported the buliding would likely have to be demolished by the day’s end.

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Updated on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 8:35 AM CST: corrected apartment to condo

2:07 PM: Adds details, quotes

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