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Car fire spreads to backpacker hostel in Vancouver, guests forced to flee

The backpacker hostel and a hotel were evacuated around 2 a.m. Saturday morning in downtown Vancouver.
Vancouver firefighters work to put out a blaze at a backpacker hostel on Granville Street. DOUGLAS QUAN, VANCOUVER SUN

VANCOUVER — Stefanie Zibert and Marlene Kayser, both 29 and visiting from Germany, were asleep on the first floor of the Samesun Backpackers hostel when they heard banging on the doors and people screaming “fire!”

“I woke up and I was, ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” said Zibert, who is from Munich.

Another woman in their room suggested it was just a bad joke because it was a Friday night and people had been drinking. But when they opened the door they saw smoke everywhere.

All they had time to grab were their passports.

By the time they got to the stairs they couldn’t see anything.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s really crazy,” said Kayser, who is from Berlin.

The backpacker hostel and a hotel were evacuated around 2 a.m. Saturday morning in downtown Vancouver after a car fire spread to a neighbouring building.

The blaze broke out in a vehicle parked in a lane behind a building at 1020 Granville St., according to Vancouver Fire and Rescue.

Assistant fire chief Pierre Morin said the fire spread to that building, which was a “complete writeoff.” One firefighter suffered minor injuries when a ceiling collapsed on him.

As a precaution, the neighbouring Samesun backpacker hostel and the Hotel Belmont were evacuated.

Morin said all the hostel and hotel guests escaped unharmed. However, there was fire damage to the hostel and they won’t be able to return.

He said the fire continued to burn under the rubble Saturday afternoon as crews waited for natural gas supplier FortisBC to shut off the gas line so firefighters could tear down the building and extinguish the blaze.

After being put up in a nearby hostel, guests were able to return to their rooms late Saturday morning with firefighter escorts to retrieve belongings.

Kayser said when they walked by the kitchen and common room area it was all burned. “It’s gone … not there anymore,” she said.

Many travellers emerged from the hostel with suitcases and backpacks that were soaked through with water.

Darren Anthony, 35, from Wales, was among those wringing water out of his clothes on the sidewalk.

He said he was half awake in his room when he heard a crackling noise outside and a car horn blaring continuously — and then a big bang.

“At that point you realize something’s not right.”

He recalled seeing an orange reflection in the ceiling. When he opened the curtains he saw flames.

He woke up his two roommates. By that point a staff member was running down the corridor alerting people to get out.

He grabbed his bank card and phone charger and headed for the stairs.

Hours later he was able to go back to retrieve his belongings.

“Burnt, dark, a lot of water on the floor, chaos really,” he said.

But his passport was safely tucked in a storage locker.

Zibert, meanwhile, let out a squeal of delight, heartened to discover that her small stuffed bear was not damaged.

“I found it! It’s my bear… since I was a baby.”

Granville Street was closed between Smithe and Nelson streets on Saturday, as firefighters continued efforts to clean up and put out hot spots.

Firefighters are investigating to determine the cause.

—with files from Tiffany Crawford and The Canadian Press

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