New allegations behind blaze

At 5:30 a.m. on April 22, a rapidly developing fire engulfed a number of adjoining businesses in Campus Court Plaza – located at 140 University Avenue West.

According to John Percy, public education officer for Waterloo Fire Rescue, it took the responding units approximately two hours to get the blaze under an acceptable level of control.

While neighbouring business owners have alleged that the fire started in the DJ booth at Tabu, neither Waterloo’s fire nor police departments will corroborate this charge.

Percy explained that this is due to the fact that part of the Ontario Fire Marshal’s investigation remains incomplete. It “is still part of our investigation to determine how the fire started and where the fire started in the complex,” he said.

At the same time, despite speculation of criminal activity, Olaf Heinzel, Public Affairs Coordinator for the Waterloo Regional Police, explained that the police must also await word from the Ontario Fire Marshal before commencing any sort of investigation.

While acknowledging that the police are currently involved, Heinzel remarked that the direction of the investigation is “pending the outcome of the information that we have so far, and depending on what comes to us through the Fire Marshal.” Heinzel urged anyone with information to contact the local authorities.

However, for the owners and those employed by the already-devastated businesses, such a success offered little-to-no solace.

“You never think to yourself that the whole thing will go down in an unstoppable blaze,” said Mel’s Diner owner Jerry Smith. When Smith arrived on the scene at 6:30 that morning, he was just one of Campus Court’s business owners forced to anxiously wait and watch the fire run its course. At the time of his arrival, “Mel’s was not even on fire,” he explained, “I had to watch it burn.”

Regrettably, Smith was not alone. In its wake, the inferno also reduced University Vision Centre, Sugar Mountain, Tabu, 140 West, and Mr. Sushi to ruin and left Caesar Martini’s severely damaged.

Initially, Waterloo Fire Rescue projected that total damages would amount to $3 million. As of May 18, Percy explained that a reassessment of the original estimate will be necessary as, once the “content from each of the businesses and structural damage” is documented, the cost could be much greater.

Further, Percy remarked that the pending investigations undertaken by the various insurers of Campus Court businesses could conceivably push the price tag even higher.

While the smoldering wreckage marked the end for some of the small businesses of Campus
Court Plaza, at that point, the investigation had barely begun. Yet even weeks later, as the clean up and demolition crews have come and gone, many questions surrounding the blaze remain unanswered.

As the police and fire departments await the results from the Ontario Fire Marshal and business owners struggle with the decision of whether or not to rebuild, questions remain as to the fire’s point of origin and what started the destructive blaze.

According to Smith, the days immediately following the fire marked the last contact Campus Court Plaza business owners had with the owners of Tabu and 140 West. Smith said that as of late, “nobody can get in touch with them.” Despite repeated attempts by The Cord to contact the owners of Tabu, no one could be reached for comment.

In the immediate aftermath of the blaze, Waterloo Fire Rescue widely publicized the importance of sprinkler systems. While Campus Court Plaza was operating in accordance with Ontario Fire Code, as one-floor plazas are not required to have sprinkler systems, Waterloo Fire Rescue remains adamant that the presence of such a system would have made for a drastically different outcome to this story.

According to Percy, “if they had a sprinkler system, you would not have lost as many businesses as they did.”

In the weeks following the fire, many in the Waterloo community have banded together to offer assistance to those affected.

Smith explained that for him, the mass outpouring of support “makes a pretty clear case for rebuilding.”

Moreover, Smith expressed his appreciation to those businesses that have offered temporary or part-time positions just to help Campus Court Plaza employees get back to work.

Overall, “I really did not know what we had there until it was gone,” Smith said.