Two odourless liquid chemicals found in a sink inside a suite in the Ritz Hotel prompted Victoria firefighters to evacuate the premises, shut down a section of Fort Street and prevent workers from returning to nearby businesses Monday.
“The (hotel) manager called reporting that a substance was left by a disgruntled former occupant of the hotel,” acting fire chief Oscar Pohl, with the Victoria Fire Department, said outside the five-storey hotel at 710 Fort St.
The manager had gone into suite 325 on the third floor around 10 a.m., and when he tried cleaning a sink, his eyes started to burn and water, and his breathing was affected.
When contacted, the former tenant, who had been evicted and was said to have mental health issues, refused to identify the chemical substances.
The manager didn’t call Victoria firefighters until 1:45 p.m. Minutes after their arrival, they called in the Capital Regional District’s Hazardous Response Unit.
Dozens of firefighters belonging to the regional team raced in from across the region, including Sooke, Metchosin, View Royal, Oak Bay, Saanich and Esquimalt. A massive incident command truck and trailer, laden with supplies, arrived from Central Saanich.
“It could be totally harmless but you can’t take any chances,” said Victoria firefighter Ross Isherwood, one of the first emergency personnel to attend the scene.
Fort Street between Douglas and Blanshard streets was closed for several hours.
The hotel, which has 100 units, was eventually evacuated and tenants were sheltered in parked B.C. Transit buses.
Just after 5 p.m. a crowd of spectators drew as close as they were allowed to watch and photograph the team dress in air tanks and full-body hazmat suits.
Just after Victoria fire crews arrived, residents of the hotel had begun to trickle out, confused by the sight of emergency personnel and their vehicles lining the street.
“I woke up and came out of my room and all of a sudden a whole bunch of officers are there,” said one third-floor resident who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I heard them mention hazardous suits. That didn’t sound good.”
Though the chemical substances were not immediately identified, the hotel’s manager was said to be fine.