A firefighter removes a piece of art from Artisan’s Alley at 430 Richmond St. in London on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Firefighters were called to a blaze at the downtown building about 4:45 a.m (DALE CARRUTHERS, The London Free Press)

Hundreds of paintings were damaged in an early-morning London fire Wednesday that left a distraught art gallery owner calling 911.

Artisan’s Alley owner David O’Dell awoke to a 4 a.m. call from his security company, telling him a window had been broken at the Richmond Street building where he’s operated his gallery and framing business for more than 30 years.

After rushing to his business and finding it filled with smoke, he called 911.

Hours later, he watched as firefighters removed artworks from the three-storey building at 430 Richmond. “It’s pretty much all been damaged, either by water or by smoke, not by fire though,” he said of his inventory of several hundred pieces.

O’Dell and his wife, who’s in Europe caring for a relative, have operated the gallery since 1984. The couple have a gallery on a portion of the building’s main floor and a workshop on the second floor.

“The fire was mostly on the second and third floor,” said O’Dell, adding the upper floor is vacant.

Fire inspector Ryan Dick said crews were called to the scene at 4:45 a.m., but saw no smoke or flames.

Firefighters entered the building and found a blaze in the back portion of the second floor, he said.

Police closed a stretch of Richmond between Dundas Street and Queens Avenue for several hours.

A damage estimate wasn’t immediately available, and cause of the fire was still under investigation, Dick said.

The building also houses Macro Foods on the main floor. Specializing in ready-made meals, the company said on its website it’s closed for unexpected repairs to its kitchen and won’t fill orders again until April.

Neighbouring businesses pitched in to offer assistance to O’Dell, helping to care for the art after firefighters removed it.

“Everyone’s been very, very good,” he said.

London Music Hall owner Mike Manuel opened up his neighbouring building to temporarily store the art.

“A lot of it is safe, thank God,” Manuel said as he moved paintings.

The yellow-brick building, located on the north side of Richmond, was home to The London Free Press from 1868 until 1931. The newspaper kept several offices there until moving to its current location on York Street.

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

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Source: Core blaze damages art | The London Free Press