VANCOUVER — A building that was reduced to a shell by a fire in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood will likely be demolished, while the number of residents displaced by the blaze has risen to 144, officials said Tuesday.
In addition to 71 residents who lost their homes at the Winters Hotel, another 73 people who lived in the neighbouring Gastown Hotel were also evacuated due to toxic smoke damage and its location in the collapse zone of the charred structure, officials from the city’s fire department and BC Housing said during a news conference.
Both hotels are rooming houses and are known as single-room occupancy buildings, or SROs, housing some of the city’s lowest-income residents.
“Any time you lose 140, 150 rooms, it’s devastating. We obviously have a shortage of housing throughout the Lower Mainland,” said Dale McMann, the vice-president of operations for BC Housing.
“We’re hopeful we can have the residents of the Gastown back before too long, but that’s really not our call.”
Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the city is working closely with BC Housing and local social service agencies to find emergency shelters for those affected, while McMann said they hope to start getting people into permanent homes in days.
Atira Property Management, the non-profit that oversees the Winters Hotel, has set up a centre in the neighbourhood to help direct supports, Stewart said.
Flames broke out in the 110-year-old building before noon on Monday and the fire department said the roof of the four-storey brick structure had collapsed within hours. Twelve hours after 60 firefighters began fighting the blaze, the last hot spot was extinguished, fire Chief Karen Fry said.
Five people were treated in hospital, including one who Fry said had jumped from an upper-floor window.
On Tuesday, Fry said two remained in hospital in stable condition, while Atira’s CEO Janice Abbott said all but one had been released.
Abbott said an email it’s believed all the residents escaped the fire, but efforts were underway to locate one tenant who is thought to be staying elsewhere.
Shops, restaurants and businesses were also heavily damaged below the 89-room Winters Hotel on the building’s upper floors. In addition to the six businesses in the damaged building, another seven businesses are affected by the closure of the collapse zone on Abbott Street, Stewart said.
An investigation into the cause of the fire is in its infancy, Fry said, but early evidence suggests it began on the second residential floor.
On Monday, Fry said the building was recently inspected and had a working sprinkler system, but Abbott said she understands the system was waiting to be reset after a small fire in the building last Friday.
“A call was made to reset the system Saturday morning,” Abbott said in the email, adding it was the best information available to her, but the situation remained “dynamic.”
The last full inspection of the building occurred in September and an additional order was issued after Friday’s fire as per protocol, Fry said, but she could not provide details of what was in the order.
Fry did not have information about whether the smoke or fire alarms sounded, she said.
“This building houses some of our most precious residents in our city and the impact on them is going to be very traumatic. We’re aware of that and our hearts go out to all of those impacted, not only the residents, but to the businesses,” Fry said.
Abbott said the response has been “overwhelming” after an appeal was made for donations of socks, underwear, bedding and other necessities because the tenants lost everything.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2022.
The Canadian Press