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Charlottetown fire victims say former teacher Loyola Griffin saved them by sounding alarm

Loyola Griffin pulled the fire alarm and knocked on doors to alert his neighbours to a fire in a three-story apartment complex on Harley Street in Charlottetown.
Loyola Griffin pulled the fire alarm and knocked on doors to alert his neighbours to a fire in a three-story apartment complex on Harley Street in Charlottetown. - Jim Day

A 77-year-old former teacher is thankful to have played a possible role in saving lives from a fire last week in Charlottetown that has displaced more than 50 residents.

Loyola Griffin was in his second-floor apartment on Harley Street early Wednesday morning when a loud explosion jolted him awake.

“I looked at my window and the flames were going right to the top of the building…I smelled smoke and I just jumped out of bed so quick,’’ he says.

“I grabbed my shorts and this shirt that I’ve got on and raced to the door.’’

Griffin pulled the fire alarm, started shouting ‘fire, fire, fire’ and knocked on doors to alert his neighbours to the need to get out of the building immediately.

He was joined by other residents in exiting the three-storey apartment complex in what he described as a surprisingly orderly fashion.

“People were very, very calm about it,’’ he says.

“There was no rushing or tearing about.’’

A couple told Griffin Monday morning that the fire alarm saved their lives and likely that of other residents.

Griffin lost the bulk of his possessions to smoke, fire and water damage.

He is insured for the items in his apartment, but some things are irreplaceable.

The former Charlottetown Rural High School teacher is particularly saddened to letters and cards of gratitude from his former students were destroyed.

“That hurts,’’ he says.

“Maybe once or twice a year I’ll go through those notes all over again and read them and it makes me feel good.’’

Griffin, who along some other residents were allowed back in the charred building Monday to see what might be salvaged, has put the tragedy into perspective.

“I was devastated at the start,’’ he says.

“I said ‘I’ve lost everything: all my pictures, my wallet, my money, everything. Then I realized everything can be replaced. Nobody was hurt. No lives were taken. And I just thank God that we are all safe.’’

Griffin, who is currently living with his sister, hopes to eventually move back in to The Harold. 

He has lived alone in his apartment since the building opened in March 2017.

He likes the central location and the indoor parking. But most of all, he cherishes the friendships he has made with other tenants.

“We have social functions here all the time and it is just like a family,’’ he says.

Keith and Jeanne Notman.
Keith and Jeanne Notman.

Jeanne Notman, 77, is also eager to return to The Harold with her 76-year-old husband, Keith.

“It was a beautiful place and it was a wonderful community of people in it,’’ she says.

The couple feel fortunate to have been at their cottage when the 29-unit complex went up in flames.

“We were not there for the trauma, nor was our little dog,’’ says Jeanne.

Adds Keith: “I thank God that we weren’t here because I have a heart condition and I probably would have had a heart attack looking at the building burning. We are very, very fortunate.’’

Keith would like to see the capital city ban the use of mulch, which was determined to have contributed to the cause of the fire.

Charlottetown Fire Inspector Winston Bryan told The Guardian Friday the misuse of cigarette butts and other flammables can ignite mulch. A spark can smoulder underneath the top layer of mulch for some time, in some cases spreading a layer of fire up to 10 feet across, before breaking out in flames.

This long smoulder occurred in the blaze at The Harold.

“We would still be living here if it was not for the mulch,’’ says Keith.

Dan Sampson, director of property management for Killam Apartment REIT, said mulch is being removed from the perimeter of its three apartment complexes on Harley Road. He adds the company is also looking to determine if the garden bed material is safely placed at its other properties.

Sampson says residents were allowed to go in to 17 of the 19 apartments on the first and second floor, accompanied by security personnel, to retrieve items readily accessible like passports and cellphones.

The process to remove larger items like furniture will begin Wednesday.

Sampson says all 10 unites on the third floor have significant fire and water damage and are not safe to walk through.

He says the third floor needs to be entirely rebuilt and the first and second floors will either be repaired or rebuilt. Neither option will be completed before at least eight months, he adds.

Twitter.com/GuardianJimDay

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