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No fire, water or smoke damage after blaze at Ontario legislature

TORONTO - A phone call about a two-alarm blaze on the roof of the Ontario legislature Sunday night had Speaker Steve Peters immediately thinking back to another fire that caused massive damage to the historic building a century earlier.


TORONTO - A phone call about a two-alarm blaze on the roof of the Ontario legislature Sunday night had Speaker Steve Peters immediately thinking back to another fire that caused massive damage to the historic building a century earlier.

"It was just kind of a shudder, a strange feeling and you know, thinking the worst, thinking back a hundred years," Peters said in an interview Monday.

"(I was) certainly quite shocked to hear that there's a fire at Queen's Park."

Neighbours in downtown Toronto called 911 about 10:30 p.m. Sunday to report flames shooting from the north wing rooftop of the 116-year-old sandstone building, directly above the legislature's extensive library.

"For this fire to be above the library again, as you know, in the 1909 fire we lost 100,000 books."

The Speakers' job comes with an apartment on the second floor of the legislature's west wing, but Peters said he was not in his residence at the time of Sunday's fire.

There was no water or fire damage visible inside the legislature Monday, not even a lingering smell of smoke in the upper floors of the library, which was draped with tarps and sheets of plastic covering books and documents on the upper levels.

The tarps were part of the disaster plan implemented by the library staff Sunday night, said Peters, who offered praise for them, the legislature's security team, the firefighters and the sharp-eyed neighbours who first raised the alarm.

"Staff and security put tarps on all the books just in case water might have gotten through into the building," he said.

"Some remarkable things happened in this."

Firefighters quickly brought the blaze under control, and there were no injuries, said Peters.

The fire started in a cooling tower, part of a large air conditioning unit on the roof of north wing of the pink limestone building, and was contained almost entirely within its metal walls.

"It was contained to that tower," said Peters.

"The flames, the heat, everything went straight up, whoosh, and . . . there's (just) a small scorch on the roof."

Some PVC pipes underneath the tower were not burned, and even the water from the firefighters' hoses all drained off the roof and did not cause any damage inside the legislature, said Peters.

Investigators are still trying to determine how the blaze started.

In 1909, a roofing crew working on the west wing of the legislature inadvertently sparked a fire that quickly destroyed the entire wing, including the legislative library.

Workers at the time formed a human chain to try and save as many books as possible, but were able to salvage only 10,000 out of 110,000 volumes.

Some of the charred books and wooden flooring from the original library remain on display at the legislature 100 years later.

It took another three years, until 1912, until the west wing was rebuilt, along with a new north wing to house the library. Both were built out of marble instead of wood like the east wing of the building.

The Ontario legislature, unofficially known as Queen's Park and affectionately nicknamed the pink palace because of the colour of the exterior stone, opened April 4, 1893.

Correction - Oct. 15, 2009, 10:44 a.m. EST: The Canadian Press erroneously reported in Tuesday, Oct. 13's Metro that the Ontario legislature was made from limestone. In fact, the building is made from sandstone.

 
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