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Vancouver residents’ harrowing escape from hearth that left 39 homeless on the Keefer Rooms

“I heard the explosion. I noticed the depth of it and I simply knew” – Keefer Rooms resident describing Friday’s hearth.

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Somebody from the constructing throughout the alley was the primary to lift the alarm concerning the hearth on Friday afternoon on the Keefer Rooms in Chinatown, James Spark stated.

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“They have been yelling, ‘Your roof’s on hearth! Your roof’s on hearth!’” the five-year resident of Keefer Rooms stated. “I seize the hearth extinguisher and I stroll to the tip of the hallway to search for it — we had the doorways open as a result of it’s scorching, proper?”

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Spark may see hearth and smoke mirrored within the home windows from the glass-walled constructing throughout the alley.

“There’s smoke and flames bellowing out of the extractor” on the roof, he stated. “And that exploded.

“I heard the explosion. I noticed the depth of it and I simply knew. I put the hearth extinguisher down and I used to be like, ‘All people out!’ Any individual pulled the alarm and all of us left.”

Fire damage can be seen on the roof the Keefer Rooms building in Vancouver, September 10, 2022.
Fireplace harm will be seen on the roof the Keefer Rooms constructing in Vancouve on Friday, Sept. 10, 2022. Picture by Nathan Griffiths/PNG

The hearth initially broke out within the kitchen of the Acquire Wah restaurant, a neighbourhood fixture situated on the bottom ground since 1981. The grease hearth raced up the vent pipe to the roof the place the extractor unit caught hearth and exploded.

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“You know the way a grease hearth can begin, proper?” stated Spark, who works as an electrician. “You’ve solely bought to get just a little bit of warmth on it. And clearly that’s what’s occurred right here.”

The constructing supervisor, who requested to not be named, stated about half of the constructing’s 39 residents have been moved to different areas, both different SRO accommodations owned by the identical firm or to Union Gospel Mission.

Not everybody wished to relocate, in keeping with the supervisor.

“The bulk who wished locations are at UGM,” stated Stephan Nelson, a 10-year resident of Keefer Rooms. “It’s sort of robust since you gotta be in at 9 p.m. and also you get kicked out at 6 a.m.” he stated of the Mission’s guidelines.

“When you’ve simply misplaced every thing and also you’ve bought nowhere to go and also you’ve gotta hit the street at 6 a.m.?” he paused earlier than shrugging his shoulders.

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Performing Assistant Chief Dan Nichols of Vancouver Fireplace and Rescue Service stated firefighters have been in a position to put down the hearth “pretty rapidly.”

Residents stated they hoped most of their belongings have been comparatively intact.

“We bought extra water harm than hearth harm,” stated Nelson.

Spark and Nelson stated Saturday that there had been looting within the constructing the earlier evening. Having fled the hearth with few belongings, they deliberate on conserving watch over the again entrance of the constructing till it may very well be correctly secured. 

Spark had no pockets or ID and solely had his “backup keys,” one thing he solely realized when searching for a pen knife that he normally carries on his keychain.

Keefer Rooms was constructed 110 years in the past, in 1912, in keeping with the Vancouver Heritage Basis. The higher flooring have been used constantly for housing for the reason that constructing was constructed and initially supplied 75 SRO rooms for low-income Vancouverites. That quantity was decreased to 45 in 1975 throughout a interval when metropolis corridor started stricter enforcement of by-laws. At the moment, there are 39 SRO items within the constructing, with shared bogs.

Each residents stated the constructing was ceaselessly utilized in movie and TV productions.

“They movie as a result of it’s one of many final personal SROs and due to the authenticity of the Acquire Wah restaurant,” Nelson stated.

“That’s one of many oldest buildings in Vancouver,” stated Spark.

With a file from Tiffany Crawford and Cheryl Chan.

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