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1 dead, 2 injured after explosion, fire at Vancouver SRO hotel

Police and firefighters are investigating after an explosion and fire at a single-room occupancy hotel near the intersection of Hastings and Main streets in Vancouver Saturday morning.

Acting Asst. Chief Walter Pereira of Vancouver Fire Rescue Service told CTV News one person had died in the incident at the Hotel Empress and two more were taken to hospital for treatment.

Crews arrived shortly after 7 a.m. to what Pereira described as "pandemonium" outside the building.

The cause of the explosion and fire is still under investigation, but Pereira said it appears to have been related to a lithium ion battery, possibly the battery of an electric bicycle.

“(The victim) just happened to be sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time and he fell out the window due to the explosion," said Pereira. "Either he lost his footing or was sent out the window due to the subsequent explosion.”

He said fire crews were able to contain the fire to the room where it originated.

The building's second floor was evacuated, Pereira said, adding that Vancouver police were on scene conducting an investigation to determine whether the incident was criminal in nature.

"It sounds to me, from my conversation with the fire investigator, it was all accidental in nature," said Pereira. "Really just an unfortunate set of circumstances for the person in that suite."

An engineer was called to assess the structural integrity of the hotel. Pereira later told The Canadian Press that the building had been deemed structurally sound.

Meanwhile, Vancouver City Councillor Pete Fry is concerned by the possibility of an e-bike battery causing the explosion. Fry says electric modes of transportation, including bikes and scooters, are growing in popularity throughout the city.

“If there’s a role for us as a city to regulate how these batteries are stored, or if there’s a larger conversation that needs to happen on a national level about e-devices and batteries, I'm certainly looking forward to getting results and ensuring this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” said Fry. 

The fatal incident is the latest example of an increase in deadly fires across B.C. highlighted earlier this week by the provincial fire commissioner. 

Brian Godlonton released his office's annual report on Wednesday, showing a 119-per-cent increase in fatal fires across the province in 2021 compared to 2019.

There were 59 fire-related deaths last year, up from 27 in 2019. With 33 deaths already recorded in 2022 before Saturday, this year is on pace to break records.

Perhaps the most notable deadly fire of 2022, so far, happened in another Vancouver SRO.

Flames tore through the Winters Hotel in the city's Gastown neighbourhood on April 11, killing residents Mary-Ann Garlow and Dennis Guay and displacing the building's other 69 residents. 

Though BC Housing initially said everyone who lived in the building was accounted for, the bodies of Garlow and Guay were found during demolition of the building on April 23.

The tragic discovery raised questions about earlier statements from the housing provider, which told CTV News in May that it was working to "better understand how the two residents were inaccurately accounted for during building evacuation, and if there are any necessary adjustments to policy and procedures for buildings under BC Housing management or that are publicly owned." 

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan and Lisa Steacy and The Canadian Press Top Stories

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