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Rockland Manor fire and health inspection was set for day fire broke out

On the same day flames ripped through Rockland Manor, leaving 18 people homeless, the boarding house was to be inspected by fire, police and health officials. A blaze broke out on the top floor of Rockland Manor at 1:50 a.m.

On the same day flames ripped through Rockland Manor, leaving 18 people homeless, the boarding house was to be inspected by fire, police and health officials.

A blaze broke out on the top floor of Rockland Manor at 1:50 a.m. on June 25, blocking the building’s fire escape. With flames licking under doors and filling rooms with smoke, some tenants scrambled to safety by heading out onto the multi-level rooftops.

Victoria fire inspector Chris Kelly said Sunday that fire officials were scheduled to do a a “very detailed” inspection of the building the day of the fire with police, the health authority and electrical and plumbing experts.

Such major inspections are usually complaint-driven and usually “an indication of some problems at the building,” Kelly said. “There were some code infractions that needed to be looked at.”

Whether those infractions contributed to the extent of the blaze is unknown.

No official cause of the fire was determined, “because everything was burnt so much, we weren’t able to identify concrete evidence,” said Kelly, who suspects improperly discarded smoking material was to blame.

Although there’s no evidence to prove that theory, the remains of cigarette butts were seen in and around the building, he said. Retired firefighters report there was a similar fire in the same location of the house in the 1980s.

The early-1900s house had a manually operated fire alarm — which was pulled, according to residents — supplemented by battery-operated smoke alarms, said the Victoria Fire Department.

The fire alarm sounded, but whether all the battery-operated smoke alarms in the rooms worked is unknown, Kelly said. “That’s something we would have been doing during our response [that day], but due to the fire, that didn’t happen.”

The fire originated at the end of a top-floor hallway between two units, where the fire escape is located. One of the units belonged to Zdenek Martinovsky, 52, who lived there for 13 years.

Martinovsky was awakened by screams of “fire.” As his room filled with smoke and he saw flames under the door, he headed out onto a steep rooftop and hung onto an overhead eavestrough until Victoria firefighters escorted him down a rescue ladder. “It was so surreal, I thought it was in a movie and wasn’t really happening,” Martinovsky said.

Living quarters in the 1920s three-storey boarding house are compact, with 20 units in the building and a shared bathroom on each floor. Many units rented for about $550 monthly with shared bath. There was a lot of visible clutter and debris — to the point of hoarding — in some units, said Kelly, adding he’s surprised there hasn’t been a fire there before.

Immediately after the blaze, Martinovsky said he had similar fears, given the activities of some residents, including “drinking and smoking and doing drugs.”

“In all honesty, I wasn’t surprised that happened,” Martinovsky said.

The lower-level windows and doors of Rockland Manor are now boarded up and tenants removed some belongings on Thursday.

Martinovsky and eight other residents are registered at the Salvation Army, the only place the city’s emergency social services said it could find to house the men — some of whom are classified as hard to house.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority said it has found temporary shelter for its nine mental-health and addiction clients, from the accommodations of friends and family to the services of the Salvation Army and Our Place in downtown Victoria.

“We are working with them to figure out appropriate options to make sure they have housing in place,” said VIHA spokeswoman Sarah Plank.

Assertive Community Treatment teams and the Victoria Integrated Community Outreach Team are in touch with their clients daily and working toward longer-term housing options, including private market housing, Plank said.

“Every effort is being made to ensure none [of the tenants] fall through the cracks, she said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com