‘I just knew she was in there’: One of two victims in Winters Hotel fire identified

Click to play video: 'Memorial grows outside Winters Hotel in Gastown'
Memorial grows outside Winters Hotel in Gastown
Former residents of the Winters Hotel in Gastown have identified one of two people found deceased during the demolition of the fire-damaged building and as Kamil Karamali reports, a memorial is growing at the scene of the double tragedy – Apr 23, 2022

Friends and family have identified one of the victims of a Gastown single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel gutted by fire as Mary Ann Garlow.

Demolition of the the Winters SRO was halted for the weekend after two bodies were found hours apart on Friday.

Candice Mclaurin, one of 71 people displaced by the fire, told Global News she had believed Garlow was still inside the building, after she failed to turn up.

Mclaurin described Garlow as quiet, funny, and someone who generally kept to herself.

Candice Mclaurin lays flowers at a memorial for victims of the Winters Hotel fire. Global News

“I just knew she was in there, she doesn’t go anywhere else. It’s very heartbreaking,” she said. “I feel like they were trying to demolish it without looking for any bodies first, or any people that I knew were missing.”

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The City of Vancouver says firefighters conducted a preliminary search of the building immediately after the fire, but were unable to do a second search because the structure was too dangerous.

Click to play video: '2 bodies found during demolition of Winters Hotel'
2 bodies found during demolition of Winters Hotel

Jennifer Hansma, another former resident, told Global News Garlow’s son was still in hospital with broken ankles sustained during the fire.

“I guess now that his mom is gone he has nobody,” she said. “She was my friend’s mom, so she was like a mom to us. She was nice. She had her problems, but we all have our problems.”

The second victim of the fire has yet to be identified.

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On Friday, Janice Abbott, CEO of the Atira Women’s Society, which operated the Winters SRO, described the discoveries as “the worst possible news.”

Abbott said Atira filed a missing persons report the week prior about a missing tenant, after a staff member hadn’t heard from them.

She said she had contacted police again on Thursday when the missing resident still hadn’t turned up.

“We were probably resigned to this news we heard today, but everybody maintained a bit of hope,” she said.

The second victim, she said, is believed not to have been a resident of the building.

Click to play video: 'Coroner called out to site of Gastown fire after bodies discovered during demolition'
Coroner called out to site of Gastown fire after bodies discovered during demolition

A small but growing memorial has sprung up against a section of construction fencing outside the demolition site on Saturday, as people stopped to leave flowers and personal notes.

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One note honoured Mary, along with several pets lost in the fire, including Hansma’s missing cat.

“I woke up to not breathing. I opened my door, I saw black smoke, I closed it, I tried to find my cat. I couldn’t find my cat, and I had to leave,” she said.

“I don’t get the body to bury. I don’t get to say my final goodbyes. And it hurts.”

Vancouver firefighters believe the blaze was caused by unattended candles, and say it was first detected by supervisory staff.

A fire watch was necessary because the building’s sprinkler systems had been recently deactivated after another, unrelated fire.

After sprinklers extinguished that fire, they were turned off. The fire department issued a notice of violation to the building’s operator to have them serviced, and issued an order for the building to be put under watch until the work was complete.

Displaced residents have since been moved to a building owned by Atira at 303 Columbia Street.

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