Fire at Pearson Terminal 1: Travellers to U.S. urged to check flight status

Passengers travelling to the United States from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport Monday are being urged to check their flight’s status before heading out the door after a fire at Terminal 1 disrupted operations Sunday night.

Both Terminals 1 and 3 are operating normally “with the exception of Terminal 1 departures to the United States, where some delays may be experienced,”  the airport’s official Twitter account announced Monday morning.

Some U.S. flights are scheduled to depart Monday. But passengers are urged to contact their airline before heading to the airport.

“Nobody wants to be delayed; it was the end of March Break,” Maria Ganogiannis, a senior communications adviser with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which operates the airport, told CBC Toronto Monday morning.

“But the first priority is the safety of our passengers and our employees.”

Emergency crews were called to the airport shortly before 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday for the fire on a “secure side” of the terminal, meaning an area beyond where travellers have passed through security and U.S. customs, Peel police ConstAkhil Mooken told reporters at the scene Sunday night.

Ganogiannis confirmed the fire broke out at a duty-free shop in the U.S. departures area. She said the fire alarm sounded at 6:22 p.m. and the fire was out at 6:40 p.m.

29 flights cancelled

The blaze was quickly extinguished, but heavy smoke hung in the air during the incident and some travellers were treated for smoke-related injuries, Mooken said.

All flights to the U.S. scheduled to leave from Terminal 1 Sunday night were cancelled and a portion of the terminal was evacuated. Twenty-nine flights were cancelled due to the fire, Ganogiannis said.

The fire activated the sprinkler system, which led to a “significant discharge of water” that partially flooded the departures area, she said. Smoke also drifted into the international arrivals hall, she added.

The incident led to about 50 planes being held on the tarmac Sunday night before passengers were allowed to disembark, Ganogiannis said. That alone affected about 10,000 travellers, she said.

‘Smoke was coming slowly at us’

Ruotong Zhai, who flew to Pearson from Hong Kong Sunday night and was expecting to get on a connecting flight to Atlanta, where she attends school, stayed at the airport overnight.

She said when she got off her flight and tried to make her way to her connection, smoke was in the air.

“We waited there, and they said they will let us go when the smoke has dissipated, but it didn’t, and the smoke was coming slowly at us,” she told CBC Toronto Monday morning.

Despite the smoke, passengers remained calm, she said.

Zhai could not get an early flight to Atlanta. She is rebooked for an evening flight, meaning she will miss a day of classes.

Brent Larsen flew in from Kamloops, B.C., Sunday evening and was expecting to get on a flight to Indianapolis. He got a hotel room and returned to the airport early Monday to see about rebooking his flight. He said airport staff did not provide information for passengers about where to go or what to do.

Larsen was also looking for his luggage ahead of his rebooked flight Monday morning.

“Stuff happens,” he told CBC. “But I think people need to step up and inform us.”

Ganogiannis said airport staff will have an incident debrief starting today to discuss the response to the fire, including what could have been done better or if improvements can be made to the airport’s emergency plan.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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