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UPDATE: Fire ravages empty downtown Victoria building

City issues air quality advisory as fire crews take defensive approach

Smoke pooled in the air and ashes fell from the sky Monday morning after a fire engulfed the Plaza Hotel at 603 Pandora Ave.

Thirty-four firefighters from the Victoria Fire Department arrived on scene beginning shortly after 4:30 a.m. when alarms went off at the neighbouring building.

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Next door buildings between Johnson Street and Pandora Avenue were evacuated after the call came in, leaving many occupants without anywhere to stay.

Laura Carr was visiting from the Seattle area, and was evacuated from a short term rental in the building adjacent to the one burning. She initially thought it was a false alarm and had a concern over grabbing the room key.

“We did grab our passports we did throw some shoes on,” Carr said. “But not everyone did.”

Carr says by the time they were down the stairs from their third-floor condo, the smoke was noticeable.

“By the time we got out front … we were watching smoke coming out the top level. I’ve heard since it might have been fully engulfed by the time we were evacuating.”

She’s confident firefighters ensured everyone was evacuated from the building.

By 11:30 a.m., the fire was under control and contained to the one property.

Victoria Fire Department Deputy Chief Dan Atkinson said that there was no known cause to the fire, but that no one had been inside and no injuries were sustained.

One man, a caretaker, is yet to be located but the fire department said so far there’s been no indication of a person being in the building.

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The 600-block of Pandora is closed to traffic, as is the 1400 block of Government Street.

Fire Chief Paul Bruce said the area will be blocked off well into tonight, and may still be blocked off until tomorrow. Bus routes will continue to be redirected.

Now, the Victoria Fire Department needs to take the next steps to determine the safest response to the fire, which will eventually include a coordinated collapse of the building’s remnants.

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The City of Victoria issued an advisory on social media that air quality is poor due to the structure fire, and advised residents and visitors to stay a safe distance away. City Hall was closed due to this.

Bruce said that all fires offer the possibility of toxic chemicals in the air, and that so far the department has not ruled out the presence of asbestos in the building.

- with files from Kendra Crighton, Matteus O’Connor, Nicole Crescenzi