With three storeys of debris blocking necessary evidence, the Nelson Fire Service is putting its physical investigation of the fire at the Kerr Apartments on hold until excavating equipment is brought in.
Fire chief Simon Grypma says the department will meet with engineers and insurance adjustors for the building this week to formulate a plan and see when a demolition crew can be hired.
“It’s a big job,” says Grypma. “There’s about 25 feet of the roof and the third, second and first floor sitting on top of the basement. So it’s going to need some heavy equipment, excavators, to actually remove the debris off of the point of origin of the fire.”
In the meantime, Grypma says Nelson Police are interviewing witnesses, including the Kerr’s tenants, about the events leading up to the fire. He’s also urging anyone with information related to the fire who hasn’t spoken with investigators to contact either the fire department or the police.
Grypma says the fire is still considered suspicious, and he’s sure investigators will pin down a cause once they’re able to examine the spot where it started.
But, he adds, the building’s thick granite walls and the fact that the fire most likely started in the portion of the basement closest to the alley will make it difficult to get machinery into the Kerr to begin the job.
He hopes the investigation will be finished within two weeks. In the meantime, a no-go zone remains in effect around the apartments.
“We’re asking people to please respect that, as there are many hazards in the building. There’s nothing salvageable, and we will prosecute anyone who trespasses.”
Nelson Fire and Rescue helped former tenants of retrieve personal items from the gutted building last Wednesday.
Grypma says property was salvaged from 11 suites — six on the first floor, and five on the second — that suffered smoke and water damage, but remained structurally sound. The other 27 suites, including all those on the third floor, were destroyed.
Items removed included jewelry, photo albums, musical instruments, and “very limited” computer equipment that could be decontaminated.
“Everything was heavily contaminated with hazardous smoke and completely polluted water from fighting the fire,” Grypma says.
The fire department met with tenants before escorting them into the building to explain the dangers it posed, including structural weaknesses. The process lasted about two hours, with firefighters volunteering their time.
There was no apparent pattern to what burned and what was saved.
“A room in the middle would be destroyed when rooms on either side were somewhat saved,” Grypma says. “It was because the fire spread so irregularly.”
He says the blaze, whose cause remains unknown, started in the basement and spread up through voids in the wall to the first floor, initially skipped the second floor and went to the third, and then directly into the attic.
“We were able to contain the fire in the basement and first floor, but unable to catch it as it travelled through the attic and virtually destroyed the whole third floor from the top down.”
The basement contained mostly discarded furniture and personal belongings from former tenants, he says.
COMMITTEE CONTINUES TO ASSESS NEEDS
Kerr residents who haven’t signed up with the Red Cross for a needs assessment are asked to do so by calling 1-800-661-3308 to set up an appointment.
The “resiliency centre” at 903B Nelson Avenue will operate for the next two weeks.
A committee chaired by Allison Alder from Selkirk College will continue to oversee the disbursement of funds raised and work toward long-term housing solutions.
It also includes representation from the City of Nelson, Regional District of Central Kootenay, Nelson Community Services, Our Daily Bread, the Salvation Army, Stepping Stones. The Kerr residents have a representative as well.
Spokesman Bill Macpherson says so far, the committee has found accommodation for two people at Ward Street Place, and one family is now living in Castlegar.
Nineteen residents are occupying 14 units at the Villa Motel until the end of the month.
Although there is no longer any need for clothing and household goods, donations of furniture are now being accepted. Call the Salvation Army (250-352-3488) if you have something to offer. They’re drawing up a list, and as items are needed, donors will be contacted and the items picked up and delivered.
“This alleviates the need to maintain costly storage space until accommodations are secured and the items are required,” Macpherson says.