UPDATE: Building partially collapses under raging fire in downtown Victoria

City issues air quality advisory as fire crews take defensive approach

One man is still unaccounted for in relation to the largest downtown Victoria fire that the city has seen in years.

Shortly after 5 a.m. the Victoria Fire Department responded to fire alarms going off in the 1400-block of Government Street before quickly realizing the fire was actually coming from the neighbouring building at 603 Pandora Ave.

The Plaza Hotel has been abandoned for years, but one caretaker occasionally lived in the building.

The Victoria Fire Department and the building’s owners have not been able to verify if he was in the building or not.

“We’ve been reaching out all morning, but we haven’t heard back from him,” said Fire Chief Paul Bruce. “At this point we have been unable to locate him.”

The Victoria Police Department is also trying to track the caretaker down.

Bruce said that after firefighters entered the building, they got up to the first three floors before realizing flames were coming from the basement and that they had to evacuate. The crew then took on defensive measures from the outside, spraying down the building and protecting adjacent structures.

The fire department does not believe anyone else was in the building, but wants to be certain in tracking down the caretaker. No injuries were reported.

One neighbour reported that the caretaker had been away for a few days, but this could not be confirmed.

READ MORE: Vigorous fire engulfs rear section of Victoria gas station

Buildings between Johnson Street and Pandora Avenue were evacuated; many of the occupants were short term renters through apps like Air BNB and VRBO.

The 600 block of Pandora is closed to traffic, as is the 1400 block of Government Street. It will remain closed for the near future. Bus routes in the area are affected.

READ MORE: Grass fire near Langford school under investigation

Deputy Fire Chief Dan Atkinson said it’s believed the fire started in the basement. At this point there is no known cause of the fire, and it has not yet been determined if it’s suspicious or not.

The City of Victoria issued an advisory that air quality in the area poor, and advised residents and visitors to stay a safe distance away.

Bruce advised that there’s always a possibility of toxic chemicals hitting the air when there’s fire, and that asbestos may have been present the building.

READ MORE: One woman confirmed dead following Esquimalt fire

 

Wendy Hedley and her husband are visiting from Winnipeg, were staying next door. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Firefighters from the Victoria Fire Department battled the blaze from 603 Pandora Ave. on May 6, 2019 (File submitted/Marco Crescenzi)

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