An apartment block on south Osborne Street at Morley Avenue was evacuated Wednesday afternoon after a kitchen fire destroyed a third-floor suite and spread to the building's roof.
Residents of some 16 suites were unharmed but were left scrambling to find temporary homes. However, "an unknown" number of cats died in the smoke-filled rooms, fire department officials reported.
A handful of residents were standing on Morley as firefighters were in the final stages of dousing the blaze around 6 p.m., waiting to see when they could check on the condition of their pets inside. At least one cat was brought out of the building and handed to a relieved resident.
However, "there were several pets that died," a fire department spokesman said later on Wednesday night. "Probably smoke inhalation. It doesn't take much if there's nowhere to go. That smoke can get in everywhere."
Resident Freya Settee managed to grab her purse and cat quickly after the fire alarm was triggered around 4:30 p.m.
"I just thought it was a little kitchen fire," Settee said.
"I didn't think it would end up burning the whole suite."
Several fire crews responded and closed down Osborne in the peak of rush hour. Platoon chief Ted Kuryluk said crews managed to contain the blaze to the roof area but the cost of the damage is "totally unknown."
Witnesses said the fire started when a tenant left something on the stove unattended. Attempts by neighbouring residents to douse the fire were in vain, said building caretaker Cyril Sinclair.
"They tried," he said, "but it was too much. The kitchen was already up."
Smoke and water damage were extensive. Residents were told not to enter the building for at least 24 hours.
"I hope it's still livable and my stuff isn't ruined," Settee said, standing on the street. "Because I won't have anywhere to live... me or my cat."
Another resident, Brad Proulx, lives in the apartment just below the suite that caught fire. He was watching as the flood of water from the hoses above sprayed into his second-storey residence.
"I've lost everything, with the amount of water that went through," said Proulx, who had no insurance.