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Two persons of interest questioned, released in Chatham Street fire aftermath

A huge fire at an abandoned downtown Victoria building Tuesday afternoon is being investigated as possible arson.

Two people of interest were taken into custody overnight by Victoria police officers and were questioned, but have since been released without charges, said VicPD Const. Mike Russell.

Thick, toxic smoke began billowing into the sky from 639 Chatham St. around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and continued smouldering through the evening. The building was slated for demolition today, said Victoria Fire Battalion Chief Dave Bicknell.

"Although the building was determined to be vacant, a recent fire in the city has proven that some older Victoria buildings are being inhabited by the homeless," said Bicknell, in a statement. "Early reports by witnesses indicated that the building may have been used by homeless persons."

Fire crews used an on-site excavator to gain access to the building later in the evening, while Victoria police controlled traffic around the area. The 600-block of Chatham St. will remain closed to public traffic today, Bicknell said.

B.C. Hydro shut off power to about 300 residents and businesses in the immediate area at the request of Victoria fire, he added. Power was restored around midnight.

Victoria Fire Department's evacuee assistance volunteers helped evacuate the adjacent Paul's Motor Inn, while Saanich fire crews assisted in rescuing several people who were stuck in a nearby elevator as a result of the power outage.

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