Testing begins on cause of Victoria’s Plaza Hotel fire while search for missing caretaker continues


WATCH:  Days after it destroyed a heritage building in downtown Victoria, the Plaza Hotel fire is still not completely out. Now there are questions about how this fire started, and the caretaker, who is still missing.  Victoria police confirm they are continuing their efforts to locate Mike Draeger, the long-time caretaker of the Plaza Hotel. And investigators hope to learn more about the cause of the fire with testing tomorrow.

Three days after it started, the Plaza Hotel fire continues to burn, complicating efforts to put it out completely.  Now, attention is turning to how this fire began.

“It leaves us to kind of focus on what we think is the rapid spread of the fire would definitely point to some kind of accelerant,” Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce said.

Investigators will test timbers located in the basement for accelerants. But first, City of Victoria Director of Engineering Fraser Work said the site needs to be cleared and hot spots put out that are still burning. An excavator carefully clawed at the remaining walls on Wednesday.

“There is no confidence right now in any of the structural elements of that facility. You can see all the structural beams have burnt. Lots of them have gone down already. And a lot of them are wet with heavy, heavy loads up high,” Work said.

The Plaza is physically attached to the building next door. But the fire damaged the structural beams, and now there’s a separation between the two buildings.

“When we pull down we have to very, very careful that we can separate that physically and keep that heritage building intact to the south. that’s where there’s another seed of a fire that is burning in there we’ve had a really hard time getting access to because of all the debris that sits on top,” Work said.

Collapsing the walls internally is critical. Because the city’s heritage buildings, including the Plaza, have tunnels underneath their sidewalks. Built for storage space in the 1800s and 1900s, they now present a danger to crews.

“The first tree that you see running all the way to Johnson, the basements extend all the way out to the curb. To the end of the sidewalk. we’ve been very careful about where we place our machinery. And the excavator went into trying to place it to the left of that under sidewalk basement,” Work said.

The search is continuing for the caretaker of the building, Mike Draeger, not seen for several days before the fire.

“We’ve done everything humanly possible to try and determine if we could locate anybody any kind of presence of anybody in that building,” Bruce said.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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