Two bodies have been found in the ruins of the Winters Hotel in Gastown.
The 1907 SRO building at 203 Abbott was devastated by a fire April 11, and is being demolished. But demolition work was halted Friday when the bodies were found.
Neither person has been identified, but Janice Abbott of the Atira Women’s Resources Society, which managed the hotel, said one was a resident of the hotel for four or five years.
“Two of the person’s family members are long-term employees of ours,” said Abbott.
“We filed a missing person’s report last week, (but) it was canceled because we were told the person was accounted for. I called the VPD yesterday morning when a family member noted they still hadn’t seen that person.”
Constable Tania Visitin of the Vancouver Police Department said the VPD then alerted Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services that “there was potentially somebody still in there.”
Working with the demolition crew, the VFRS found a body Friday morning on the third floor of the building, on the south side. A second body was found in the late afternoon.
Asked why it took 11 days to find that there was a dead body in the building, VFRS Chief Karen Fry said the fire had been so dangerous, fire crews had not entered most of the building before demolition began.
“Generally when we have a fire, firefighters conduct a primary and a secondary search to declare an all-clear in a building,” said Fry at a press conference Friday, before the second body had been discovered.
“At that point in time we look for occupants. This building has been very risky and dangerous, too dangerous to put our staff in, so we have not been able to go physically. So we need the demolition process (to go in) and that’s where we discovered (the body).
“Our search is not complete, and we have not gotten into the building. To be completely clear, we are not going in the building, we are not entering the building. It is all through the demolition process and today we had to stop that process and bring our ladder truck down and remove the body.”
Abbott said there were 71 residents in the building at the time of the fire.
“It’s awful,” she said. “We were under the impression that everybody had been accounted for.”
On April 21 VFRS said a preliminary investigation had found “the fire originated in a second floor unit from unattended candles and has been deemed accidental.”
Abbott said candles were not allowed in building, but they get in.
“Our buildings are non-smoking,” she said. “People are not supposed to have candles. But about 81 per cent of our tenants use (drugs), and so candles and lighters and whatnot are a thing that we manage.
“The reality is people also rent the rooms under the RTA (residential tenancy act) and so we can’t be in rooms 24 hours a day. We have to kind of monitor as best we can.”
There had been a fire at the Winters Hotel on April 8, three days before the deadly April 11 fire. It was extinguished by the sprinkler system, and fire crews shut off the sprinklers and issued a notice that the system had to be serviced. But the second fire happened before the sprinklers were reset.
“We issue a notice of violation where they need to be serviced and they repair the sprinkler heads, and that was in the process of being done when the fire occurred,” said Chief Fry, adding the three day delay in being serviced “does not appear to be too long.”
“We put systems in place, what we call fire watch,” she explained.
“Fire watch requires individuals to do walk-throughs and to monitor the buildings for fires. That’s how we discovered the fire. Unfortunately it got out of control very quickly.”
Abbott said Atira had been managing the privately-owned hotel since 2017.
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