As many as 20 supportive housing residents have been displaced after an SRO fire in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Saturday, according to Vancouver Fire Rescue Services.
Fire crews were called to the Molson Hotel at 166 East Hastings, near the intersection with Main Street, early Saturday afternoon, Assistant Chief Randy Boruk told CBC News.
No one was injured or sent to hospital, he said.
East Hastings Street was closed in both directions between Main and Columbia streets but partially re-opened around 3 p.m. Saturday, according to Vancouver Police. Buses were being re-routed, TransLink said in a series of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Molson Hotel, left, is a supportive housing single room occupancy hotel run by PHS Community Services Society in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (PHS Community Services Society)
Boruk said the fire was contained to a single unit on the fifth floor and the sprinkler system was activated.
"It was a mattress fire that spread to some contents. Fire crews have now extinguished that," said Boruk.
"They're doing a little bit of overhaul and as expected, when a sprinkler goes off there's a little bit of damage."
Fire services are investigating the cause of the blaze, said Boruk, and emergency social services were on scene to help residents find temporary accommodation.
The Molson is a 42-unit supportive housing facility for people with physical and mental health issues, run by non-profit PHS Community Services Society.
Temporary housing available
PHS interim housing director Jennifer Lapierre says the society is still assessing the extent of the damage and how many residents will be displaced.
"It could be up to 20 depending on the water damage spread, but we're hopeful that it's not that high," she told CBC News.
The unit where the fire started and another where it potentially spread will likely not be habitable for some time, said Lapierre, but other residents may be able to return sooner once water damage from the sprinkler system is fixed.
She expressed relief that no one was injured and said the society is finding vacant units to house the displaced residents in the meantime.
"Resident safety, that's the most important thing," said Lapierre.
Two residents died in a fire that burned down the Winters Hotel in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on April 11, 2021. The SRO was demolished the following week. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
High fire risk in SROs
A report presented to Vancouver City Council earlier this year said fire crews responded to more than 220 fires at SROs in 2022, more than double the number seen in 2018.
During that discussion, City of Vancouver staff noted SROs are at high risk for fires because the buildings are old, likely with overloaded electrical systems. Systems for alarms and sprinklers are also likely outdated and in need of frequent repairs.
Residents can also resort to unsafe tactics to stay warm in buildings with poor heating, and many have mental health issues that make it challenging for them to keep watch over candles and electric appliances, according to the report.
Lapierre says once the cause of the fire is determined, PHS will ensure any building issues that may be found to have contributed are fixed and will work with any residents involved to improve fire safety knowledge and practices.
According to the city, roughly 7,200 residents live across 154 SRO buildings, which are primarily in the city's Downtown Eastside, and more than 400 had to leave their homes due to fires in 2022.