LONDON – The investigation continues today into a fire that destroyed the Embassy Hotel – a landmark hotel in London’s Old East Village.

And fire officials say Dundas Street – the village’s main thoroughfare – could be closed at least another day to allow the Ontario Fire Marshal to probe for a cause and engineers to determine whether the ruins, especially the façade facing the street, need to razed.

About 50 firefighters – half the city’s available staff – in about a dozen fire trucks battled the blaze for several hours after the alarm was sounded at 8 p.m Tuesday.

No one was injured and about a dozen people in nearby buildings were evacuated from their homes.

Firefighters faced a tough battle against a fire that kept flaring up despite a continuous barrage of water blasted at the building from front and back, from the ground and from boom ladders above.

“Everybody did an excellent job and we’re lucky we didn’t lose a couple of other buildings,” said Platoon Chief Syd Gatenby this morning.

“The cause is now under investigation. We’re not calling it suspicious or trying to put fear into the people, but a vacant building doesn’t start on fire by itself.”

The blaze was so fierce and so widespread that a fire chief at the scene last night said it wasn’t safe for firefighters to enter the hotel building, even with all their special gear.

“We want to beat it back . . . before even thinking about taking a look inside,” he said.

Gatenby said it could be at least another day before Dundas Street re-opens to traffic. It’s now closed between Rectory and Lyle Streets, police said.

“Our big concern is the traffic driving by,” said Gatenby. “If that façade came down it would fall right across the road.”

The legendary hotel closed about two months ago to make way for a 150-unit condo project.

Several hundred people, kept at bay by police, watched firefighters battle the blaze.

Flames shot from the roof at the back of the building shortly after 8:30 p.m. and periodically leaped from the roof, along with billowing black smoke that spread through the neighbourhood, reducing visibility to near zero for motorists trying to make their way around the blaze and choking residents and pedestrians.

At times, it looked as if firefighters had the blaze beaten, then a ball of flame would burst from a roof or window.

The smoke was so heavy that a woman on her way to visit her sister a block to the north said she wouldn’t because “the smoke’s drifting that way and it’s so thick I think my sister should stay with me tonight.”

“This fire isn’t quite as spectacular as the one at Alma College, but it’s a major one, for sure,” she said.

Police, fearing an explosion, moved crowds away.

One onlooker, 42-year-old Pat, who didn’t want to give her last name, recalled sitting in the Embassy, drinking with friends as an underage teenager.

“This is too bad because it was definitely a landmark. Lots of kids got in trouble in there. I know. I was one of them going in under age.”

Rob Bazinet, 32, who worked at the Embassy for 10 years until it closed and left as its last general manager, said it was a “sad” ending for the building. “It was a community music spot for 50 years. Then you get out-of-town owners who come in and don’t fix anything and let it run down.”

Sarah Merritt, manager of the Old East Village Business Improvement Area, was also saddened but confident the planned re-development will go ahead.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “They were planning to demolish the first two buildings this summer. I’m sure the developer and the city will work something out. But it was a real landmark. There’s a lot of history in there.”

Built in the early 1900s, the hotel was to be demolished and the condo project built in its place.

Source: Investigation continues in London hotel blaze -… | North Bay Nugget