One man has been killed in a fire at a former medical clinic building in downtown Nanaimo.
The blaze broke out early Sunday morning in the former Caledonian Clinic at the corner of Wallace Street and Campbell Street.
A spokesperson with RCMP “E” Division confirmed to CHEK News Sunday evening that a man died from the fire, but several others managed to escape.
Two Nanaimo RCMP officers on patrol in the area were the first to spot the billowing smoke shortly after midnight Sunday morning.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews responded with three engines and two trucks to douse the flames.
“Two individuals were found suffering from smoke inhalation outside the building. When fire crews entered, they found a deceased person on the first floor,” said Cst. Gary O’Brien with Nanaimo RCMP.
Firefighters determined no one else was inside, and the coroner was notified. Police say it appears the people were camping inside the building.
RCMP officers guarded the scene Sunday as forensic investigators could be seen sifting through evidence near an entrance. Police remained at the scene Monday.
“The fire investigators have been working with our forensic investigators to establish the cause of the fire,” said O’Brien.
Despite the fences and boarded-up windows and doors, police say they’ve been to the building multiple times before and found marginalized people sheltering.
A partner from a neighbouring business says it was inevitable something like this would happen.
“It’s really sad that it happened, and honestly, it’s not that unexpected,” said Jennifer Millbank, a partner at RLR Lawyers.
“The building and the traffic around it have been getting worse and worse. There’s been an increase of people in fairly desperate situations.”
Millbank wonders why the building wasn’t torn down. The City of Nanaimo approved a development permit for a six-storey building with 163 residential units more than a year ago. Demolition is slated for this spring.
It’s the city’s latest incident related to the housing crisis and mental health and addictions. Nanaimo-Ladysmith’s Member of Parliament Lisa Marie Barron says she’s heard from many concerned constituents about it and public safety.
“I’m holding the Liberals to account to move forward with actions on this, highlighting what’s happening in our community to finally move forward with affordable housing. They campaigned on mental health transfers to provinces and territories. We’ve yet to see a dollar of that,” said Lisa Marie Barron.
Police say they have yet to identify the person who died and an autopsy is expected to happen soon.
The building has been known to be used by squatters since it became vacant about six years ago.
The cause of the blaze is still being investigated.