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39 displaced after explosion, fire at SRO in Vancouver's Chinatown

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Firefighters were called to another fire near Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Friday.

Images posted on social media just after noon showed large amounts of smoke and flame coming from the roof of a building near Main and Keefer streets in the city's Chinatown.

One Twitter user reported feeling an explosion from their location in a nearby building on East Georgia Street.

Vancouver police tweeted that a fire and "several explosions" had been reported in the 200 block of Keefer Street. 

"We don't know what exploded," said Vancouver Fire Rescue Service Acting Assistant Chief Dan Nichols.

"When crews got on scene, obviously, the explosion was done." 

Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry said in her own post that crews were battling a second-alarm blaze and "hitting it hard" in hopes of preventing it from spreading. 

Nichols said the fire began on the roof of the building and spread into "void spaces" between the roof and the top-floor ceiling. Crews could be seen on the roof working to put out hotspots early in the afternoon.

The ground floor of the heritage building at 218 Keefer St. is home to Gain Wah restaurant, and there are single-room occupancy residences on the upper floors, according to Nichols. He said everyone inside the building when the fire broke out had evacuated.

The acting assistant chief told CTV News 39 people had been displaced by the fire, the cause of which is under investigation.

Residents of the Downtown Eastside, Gastown and Chinatown have expressed concern about a growing number of fires in their part of the city.

Several devastating blazes have struck in the area this year, including one last month that engulfed four buildings on Powell Street near Princess Avenue and displaced dozens of residents. 

In July, flames tore through a church and forced the evacuation of a neighbouring SRO hotel in a fire that police now believe was intentionally set. Vancouver police released surveillance video this week showing three people they believe are connected to that blaze. 

Before that, in April, two people died in a major fire that destroyed the Winters Hotel, a supportive housing building in Gastown. 

As of June, B.C. was on pace for a record number of fatal fires in 2022, according to the provincial fire commissioner.  

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