NEWS

Fleming Drive Riot: Rioters Hit London, Ont. Near Fanshawe College (VIDEOS)

03/18/2012 03:30 EDT | Updated 03/19/2012 05:11 EDT

FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS:

LONDON, Ont. - A heaving, intoxicated crowd of up to 1,000 people spent much of Saturday night fuelling a large street fire and attacking authorities who tried to intervene as St. Patrick's Day celebrations in London, Ont., went awry.

The upheaval on Fleming Drive in the city's east end drew about 65 police in riot gear and 10 firefighters to the scene.

The area, near Fanshawe College, is heavily populated by students and has been the site of previous disturbances, but none as large as the latest one, authorities said.

"It was pretty tense and it was kind of unusual, even for that area," District Fire Chief Jim Holmes told The Canadian Press.

"That particular area has had some incidents in the past but I don't think ever to this scale and this number of people and this length."

The trouble began when a group of revellers took over a CTV news van, flipped the vehicle and set it on fire.

"The crews got there and tried to get in and they were pelted with rocks and bottles," said Holmes. "They got through and then the vehicle exploded."

A few party-goers were hurt by the leaping flames but were treated for injuries that were "nothing too serious," Holmes said.

The crowd then continued to fuel the fire with bottles of alcohol, fences ripped from neighbourhood homes and anything else they could find, he said.

"They kept feeding it," said Holmes. "They brought a 60 inch TV from the basement of a house and threw it on. They uprooted some trees, threw it on the fire, mattresses, furniture all kinds of things."

All the while, the throng of people gathered around the flames refused to let fire crews through to douse the blaze.

"At one point somebody threw a 20 pound propane tank into the fire, so we had to move everybody back before it exploded," said Holmes. "Fortunately it did not."

"We just didn't want any of the kids to get hurt, that was our big thing. But we couldn't really get in there to do much."

At that point, London police and fire crews decided to stand back to avoid escalating the situation further.

"Going in there with that number of people might not have been good for anybody. So we just kind of stayed back and were patient until we decided it was time to move in," Holmes said.

Authorities eventually moved in just after 4 a.m. when the crowd had thinned out.

Const. Krissy Belanger says 11 people have been arrested and 17 police vehicles were damaged from last night's activities.

Fire trucks on the scene also suffered some scratches and dents from the bricks and beer bottles that were hurled at the vehicles.

A number of smaller fires were also reported in other parts of the city, but none compared to the huge blaze that drew the largest crowd.

Some area residents took to social media sites on Sunday expressing their frustration at the havoc wreaked by the revellers and questioned why authorities didn't move in earlier to break up the crowd.

But Holmes said police and firefighters had made the right decision in holding back.

"From what I saw from being there for the entire evening, if police or us had moved in earlier, it would have created a much more dangerous situation," he said.

"There was way too many people to move in and do anything...it wasn't a life threatening situation at that point so I believe the right thing happened."

— By Diana Mehta in Toronto

PREVIOUS STORY:

A heated riot hit Fleming Drive in London, Ont. on the evening of St. Patrick's Day, leaving wreckage in its wake.

Young people numbering in the hundreds gathered along the street around 9:30 p.m. Saturday, causing an uproar, according to the London Free Press. After an estimated 50-plus police officers arrived on the scene, rioters pelted them with bottles, pieces of wooden fences and rocks, the LFP reported.

CTV's Sean Irvine confirmed rioters set a CTV vehicle on fire at the scene:

A video posted Saturday night shows the news van set ablaze, flames reaching several feet high, and an explosion.

Irvine also reported that some may have been burned at the scene, in addition to others who have sustained minor injuries.

CTV's Steve Young added via Twitter:

Police attempted to contain the mob scene past 11 p.m. and arrested a few men, the LFP said.

Fleming Drive experienced out-of-hand parties in 2007, and in 2009. Both incidents saw property damage and participants charged, according to WesternGazette.ca.

London residents have expressed their outrage and disappointment at the violent scene.

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