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140 residents displaced, historic building to be demolished after Vancouver fire

The fire which ripped through the Winters Hotel Monday has displaced more than 140 people.

The fire that ripped through a Gastown SRO Monday, April 11, has displaced more than 140 people and will result in the historic Winters Hotel's demolition.

Two people remain in hospital in stable condition said Vancouver Fire Rescue Services Chief Karen Fry; yesterday five were taken to hospital, including one person who jumped to escape the flames.

That occupant leapt "from the top floor of the building and was located in the backside of the building in a really precarious spot," Fry said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

She noted fire crews were able to rescue six people from the building as it went up in flames, including using ladders to reach some trapped on the upper levels of the SRO.

"The fire took hold quickly spreading through a lot of empty spaces, ceiling walls and floors," Fry said. "And if you saw a lot of the footage on it, it was quite spectacular."

The last hot spot was doused at 11 p.m. by firefighters, more than 12 hours after the first flames were spotted.

Winters Hotel, run by Atira Women’s Resource Society, housed 71 people; all but one has been located, but officials believe the missing person is staying with friends or family elsewhere.

An additional 73 people who were living in the neighbouring Gastown Hotel, another SRO, are also displaced, and new permanent housing will be needed for all 144. It's believed all other guests, staff and other individuals were able to get out okay. At least a couple of pets died during the fire a resident of the building told Vancouver Is Awesome at the time of the fire.

The investigation into the cause of the fire is in its early stages and many things are not known said Fry, but preliminary information indicates it started on the second residential floor and moved up in the building. She notes that a fire that crews dealt with on Friday, April 8 also occurred in a residential suite, but was contained to a single unit and deemed accidental.

Whether that fire left the building without a properly working fire alarm or empty fire extinguishers is unknown and will be part of the investigation, Fry said.

Police haven't seen evidence of arson, said VPD Inspector Dale Weidman, but haven't ruled it out either. When asked whether an altercation that witnesses reported seeing in front of the hotel before the fire had anything to do with the blaze Weidman said he'd heard the rumour as well and police were looking into it.

Due to the fire, a demolition order will be given, and Mayor Kennedy Stewart expects the historic building will be demolished soon.

"The building suffered extensive damage and will most likely require demolition," he said at the press conference.

In a statement emailed to Vancouver Is Awesome following the press conference the City states the Winters Hotel "poses a risk to the public and adjacent buildings," and will need to be demolished. 

"Given the age and condition of the building following the fire the demolition will be complex and City staff are already assessing the most appropriate approach to demolish the building in a safe and expeditious way, as well as procure the necessary expertise to execute the demolition plan," states the City in the email.

Stewart added that fencing has gone up to keep people out of an area around the Winters Hotel in case it collapses. The neighbouring Gastown Hotel is part of this area but is not itself in any need of demolition. However, it can't be occupied right now due to smoke and water damage; dehumidifiers and air scrubbers are in that building now.

Fry noted that fires are more common in SROs than in other residential dwellings, but don't normally attract widespread attention. Stewart said many of the SROs are old and not built for their current use.

"They've well passed their date," he said, noting he's been in discussions with upper levels of government to end privately owned SROs.

"I think we're all united in that we think that these buildings need to come out of the private sector and need to be owned by government and operated by government so we can ensure the safety standards are maintained," he said.

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