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Demolition of fire-razed Gastown heritage building set to begin Wednesday

Click to play video: 'Residents and businesses react as demolition begins on Gastown heritage building'
Residents and businesses react as demolition begins on Gastown heritage building
The city of Vancouver has begun the process of demolishing the Winters Hotel in Gastown, which was severely damaged by fire last week. Grace Ke has the details, and how former residents and nearby businesses are coping. – Apr 19, 2022

Demolition of the four-storey heritage building razed by fire in Gastown last week is set to begin on Wednesday.

Equipment to begin the process will arrive Tuesday, and the City of Vancouver has confirmed tear-down of the Winters Hotel on Abbott and Water streets will be completed late on Thursday.

“The 203 Abbott Street is a designated Heritage Class B,” said Saul Schwebs, the City of Vancouver’s chief building official, outside the charred property on Tuesday.

“Retaining the façade would significantly delay the process and would ultimately increase the risk to the public and the workers completing the process given the fire damage and unstable condition of the building.”

Click to play video: 'City of Vancouver begins demolition of Winters Hotel in Gastown'
City of Vancouver begins demolition of Winters Hotel in Gastown

Read more: ‘It destroyed our lives’ — Gastown business owners fighting to retrieve essential items after fire

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Five people were hospitalized and more than 140 were displaced after the building erupted in flames on April 11. It contained a women’s shelter and single-room occupancy hotel, along with seven businesses.

The earliest estimate for reopening the nearby buildings, streets and sidewalks after demolition is Friday, the city said.

During the process, however, Vancouver residents are advised to steer clear of the site due to the hazards posed by dust and debris. The city will monitor air quality throughout the tear-down and firefighters will hose down the area to keep dust to a minimum, Schwebs added.

“We are recommending that businesses and residents near the building close all windows, turn off all vents and move all items inside before the demolition begins.”

Click to play video: 'Gastown business owners fighting to retrieve essential items after building fire'
Gastown business owners fighting to retrieve essential items after building fire

BC Hydro will shut down power to some neighbouring buildings for a portion of Wednesday, for the safety of both demolition crews and the public. It will be restored as quickly as possible.

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Abbott Street, meanwhile, will remain fully closed between Water Street and Blood Alley, and from Blood Alley to Cordova Street. Additional road closures may occur as demolition and cleanup continues, according to a Tuesday news release from the city.

Residents can expect to hear sounds from a large excavator and falling debris on both Wednesday and Thursday evening, said Schwebs, as the city aims to complete demolition as quickly as possible.

Read more: Five people injured after fire breaks out at women’s shelter in Gastown

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The official cause of the blaze has not been released, but fire crews said last week it appeared to have begun on the building’s second residential floor and moved up from there.

Repairing the heritage building safely “doesn’t seem to be viable,” said Schwebs, who is also the municipality’s director of buildings policy, inspections and bylaw services.

“I was able to view the damage from the fire a week ago today and what I saw was that the roof had been completely burned away and collapsed into the fourth floor of the building. Much of the fourth floor has also been collapsed,” he told reporters.

“So what we have is a situation with masonry walls that have very literal lateral support, there’s nothing to keep them falling in or out and that creates a very unsafe condition.”

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Click to play video: 'Gastown fire victims to move into new homes'
Gastown fire victims to move into new homes

Gastown businesses may operate as normal, said the city, with the exception of those in the secured zone adjacent to the Winters Hotel. A third-party engineer inspected the building on Wednesday morning to determine whether it’s safe for impacted business owners to retrieve their belongings within.

The Gastown BIA has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help its members navigate the loss of revenue, destroyed valuables and merchandise, and urgent needs that may not be covered by insurance.

The city is also working closely with BC Housing and local social service agencies to find shelter for those impacted by the fire. Bettes Boutique at Main and Cordova streets is taking donations of clothes, bedding and other items to help support those who have been forced from their homes.

— with files from Simon Little and Amy Judd

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