Latest SRO fire pushes out more than 50 people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

40 firefighters responded to a fire at a single-room occupancy building in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Sunday, which forced dozens of people out of their homes. (Nick Allan/CBC - image credit)
40 firefighters responded to a fire at a single-room occupancy building in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Sunday, which forced dozens of people out of their homes. (Nick Allan/CBC - image credit)

A Sunday morning fire at a single-room occupancy (SRO) building in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside forced an evacuation and displaced a number of people who were living there.

The fire broke out around 8 a.m. at Sereena's Housing for Women at 143 Dunlevy Avenue, a supportive housing project run by Atira Women's Resource Society.

According to fire officials, it started in a suite on the second floor of the building, spread to other suites on the same floor and then reached the third floor.

No injuries have been reported and the cause of the fire is currently being investigated.

"Nobody is going back in until the damage assessments [are finished] and utility go back on," said Assistant Fire Chief Brian Bertuzzi at around 9:30 a.m. "We've knocked the fire down now and we've got quite a few displaced residents right now."

According to the Atira Women's Resource Society website, the SRO has 56 rooms.

Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira, said it was the second fire in the suite on Sunday morning — an earlier fire was put out by sprinklers and firefighters around 3:30 a.m., she said.

"Everyone, I think, is doing okay under the circumstances," she said. "We've got a place for them to go today ... there's only around five rooms impacted."

Most of the residents are expected to make their way back by Monday, according to Abbott. Bertuzzi said the building housed more than 50 women.

Latest incident in string of fires on the DTES

Sunday's fire is just the latest in a series of fires in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood.

Earlier in September, two fires on the same day displaced nearly 40 people living in SROs. In late August, over 60 people lost their homes after a fire on Princess Avenue.

Community members continue to raise concerns about the series of blazes, and are calling for more action from the city to ensure Vancouver's most vulnerable people are kept safe.

"Why, almost every week, are we having fires like this that are displacing so many people?" asked BeeLee Lee, the vice president of the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War.

Lee, who captured video of the incident early Sunday morning, said city data shows many SRO operators in the city are committing fire code violations. Lee feels officials aren't treating the situation like a crisis and says calls about fire hazards and flammable materials are not being answered fast enough.

"It's not normal," she said. "If citizens are calling in and saying, look, we see something ... please respond to it quickly."