The Kerr fire

#1 The Kerr Block Burns

The new year was less than a week old when the year’s biggest story broke.



The new year was less than a week old when the year’s biggest story broke.

In the early hours of January 6, fire began in the basement of the century-old Kerr Apartments, and quickly consumed the entire three-storey building.

Amazingly, no tenants were hurt, although several pets died. Firefighters spent all night dealing with a blaze that chief Simon Grypma called “extremely difficult.”

“Both the temperature and the wind really hampered our firefighting attack because our visibility was pretty well zero,” he said.

Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and a third for hypertension.

The approximately 80 displaced residents, meanwhile, were evacuated to the Capitol Theatre overnight, then put up in local hotels, and finally moved to the Villa Motel while they searched for new accommodation.

“We just panicked,” Carol Taylor, one of the victims, told the Star outside the New Grand Hotel, where she and her teenage children were staying.

“I grabbed my son’s urn — it was all I could think of. He passed away two years ago at 17.”

A committee was struck to help meet the former Kerr residents’ needs, with the assistance of many agencies and social services, including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, City of Nelson, and Regional District of Central Kootenay.

Numerous fundraisers collectively raised over $70,000, while a massive one-day drive filled the old Movie Gallery location on Vernon Street with more household goods than residents could use.

Investigators, meanwhile, had their work cut out, as tons of rubble covered the fire’s origin point. Once they finally gained access, they could only conclude it was not deliberately set. Officially, the cause went down as undetermined.

At that point, the building’s fate was still an open question.

Although the Kerr was on the city’s heritage register, that didn’t afford it protection from demolition. While the stone walls looked solid at a glance, an engineer’s report said preserving them as part of a rebuild wasn’t feasible.

And so an excavator moved in one day in June and began knocking them down. The date stone and entrance arch were saved for possible inclusion in a future project.

The site remains a fenced-off pit, its prospects unknown.

In May, a tree was planted in Lakeside Park to recognize the groups and individuals who responded to the disaster.

Dave Sprague, the tenants’ representative on the unmet needs committee, who devoted all his energies to helping his former neighbours find homes, said he was touched by the community response.

Mayor John Dooley echoed those sentiments.

“That’s the Nelson I know and love and am honored and proud to be the mayor of,” he said. “It’s a community that meets the needs of those in desperate straits, not only at the time but going forward.”

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Lost dog swims Columbia River multiple times searching for home

The dog was missing from his Castlegar home for three days.

Traffic finally eases along Arrow Lakes ferry routes

Motorists were stuck for up to six hours in ferry lineups over the weekend

Nelson climbers raise racism awareness with video

Tula and Tosh Sherkat and Rossland director Liam Barnes collaborated on the video

Horrifying video shows near head-on collision on Trans Canada

The video was captured on dash cam along Highway 1

Fraser Valley woman complains of violent RCMP takedown during wellness check

Mounties respond that she was not co-operating during Mental Health Act apprehension

B.C. sees 12 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths

Three outbreaks exist in health-care settings

COVID-19: B.C. promotes video-activated services card

Mobile app allows easier video identity verification

ICBC to resume road tests in July with priority for rebookings, health-care workers

Tests have been on hold for four months due to COVID-19

Would you take a COVID-19 vaccine? Poll suggests most Canadians say yes

75 per cent of Canadians would agree to take a novel coronavirus vaccine

Budget officer pegs cost of basic income as calls for it grow due to COVID-19

Planned federal spending to date on pandemic-related aid now tops about $174 billion

Sexologist likens face mask debate to condom debate: What can we learn from it?

Society’s approach to condom usage since the 1980s can be applied to face masks today, one expert says

Most Read