Five people were taken to hospital and others are unaccounted for after a serious fire in the Gastown area of Vancouver on Monday, according to paramedics and Vancouver Fire Rescue Services.
The fire broke out at the four-storey Hotel Winters building on Abbott Street near Water Street around 11 a.m. PT. Within an hour, orange flames had begun shooting through the roof.
Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry said “upwards of a handful” of people who lived in the building were missing, adding people could have been out when the fire started or scattered after fleeing the flames.
According to B.C. Emergency Health Services, five people were taken to hospital, including two in serious condition and one in stable condition. Others were treated for minor injuries at the scene.
Fry said one person was injured after he jumped from a window to escape the blaze.
“We rescued several [people] from the top floor of the building,” she added.
The heritage building houses a number of businesses, including The Flying Pig restaurant, Lemongrass House, Nika Design and the Australian Boot Company shoe store.
A single-room occupancy hotel (SRO) is within the upper floors.
“Me and a tenant almost got it out [but] the fire extinguisher went dry. After that, it just continued like [it was burning] a sheet of newspaper,” said a front-desk worker in the SRO who identified himself as John.
“It’s all I could do after that was run around and get everyone out.”
The chief said firefighters searched the first two floors before they had to retreat. Officials don’t know whether anybody else is still trapped inside.
“[It’s] very dangerous. The building is 115 years old, most likely, and it’s a brick building so we’re taking every precaution that we can to keep our firefighters safe. We don’t know if there’s anybody [left] in the building and we probably won’t know that until we get the fire out,” Fry said.
Fry says the building had recently been inspected and it had a sprinkler system, but she didn’t know if it was working when the fire broke out.
More <a href=”https://t.co/SkDXs7SiDA”>pic.twitter.com/SkDXs7SiDA</a>
More than a dozen fire trucks and more than 70 firefighters were on the scene by early afternoon, Fry added.
Vancouver police are asking drivers to avoid the Gastown area as a result of the fire, which has sent plumes of acrid grey smoke billowing across the city. Residents downtown have been told to close their windows.
“The smoke is very dangerous and toxic, so if you are near the smoke please try and stay away … it’s not good for you to be breathing in,” said Fry.
By mid-afternoon, Fry said part of the roof had collapsed. Crews were attacking the fire from all sides to prevent it spreading to neighbouring buildings, she said.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told a separate news conference on Monday that an estimated 70 residents were affected and a reception centre was being established for those who need support.
The building is operated by Atira Women’s Resource Society. CEO Janice Abbott described Monday as a chaotic day for staff as they tried to secure shelter and food for displaced residents.
Abbott said Atira is working with the city, B.C. Housing and other non-profit housing providers to find places for everyone to stay.
“We will find everybody a place. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in the next 48 hours, but we will find everybody a place,” she said.
Atira is currently accepting donations for the evacuees at 305 Main St. Abbott says the most urgent needs are socks and underwear.