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Police say it's 'improbable' there are more than seven victims of Old Montreal fire

Montreal police said Friday they didn't think they would find more than seven bodies in the rubble of an Old Montreal building that caught fire eight days ago.
Montreal police say they don't believe there are more victims than the seven people reported missing after fire gutted an Old Montreal building eight days ago. Flowers and messages are shown at a makeshift memorial near the site of the building, Thursday, March 23, 2023. The heritage building went up in flames last week. Four bodies have been recovered and three people remain missing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Montreal police said Friday they didn't think they would find more than seven bodies in the rubble of an Old Montreal building that caught fire eight days ago.

Searchers had left open the possibility that unaccounted for tourists or isolated people without family could still be in the burnt-out structure. But Insp. David Shane said police hadn't received more reports of people missing, adding that it's "improbable" there were more than seven victims.

"It's always a possibility that we find somebody else, but what we wanted to share with you in total transparency is that we have no information indicating that there could be somebody else," Shane told reporters.

"It's not impossible, but we feel that it's improbable at this point."

Searchers have pulled four bodies from the rubble, and only one victim has been identified: 76-year-old Camille Maheux, a renowned photographer whose relatives said had lived in the building for 30 years.

Shane said officials were working to identify the other three bodies; three other people reported missing are likely still in the charred remains of the building.

Martin Guilbault, a fire operations chief, said the deployment of a second crane to the site on Thursday allowed officials to remove several large steel beams and pieces of roof. "All that work will allow us to further explore the building in order to continue the search for the victims," Guilbault said. 

"Responders continued their search to the best of their abilities, working furiously from sunrise to sunset."

Authorities have said that the building, built in 1890, was hosting illegal short-term rentals with Airbnb, a San Francisco-based online marketplace. 

In 2018, Airbnb-style short-term rentals were made illegal in the historic neighbourhood where the building that caught fire is located.

On Friday, Airbnb announced it would pull listings that did not have a permit from the provincial agency that oversees tourism accommodation. Politicians in Quebec had criticized Airbnb for not enforcing the permit issue and allowing illegal rentals to flourish. 

The others reported missing include An Wu, 31, a neuroscientist doing post-doctoral work at the University of California San Diego, who was in Montreal for a conference. Also missing are Dania Zafar, 32, of Toronto, and her childhood friend Saniya Khan, 31, of Detroit. The pair were staying in the building during a brief holiday in the city, Zafar's father has said.

Charlie Lacroix, an 18-year-old from the Montreal suburb of Terrebonne, is also missing. She had rented a unit in the building on Airbnb with a friend, and Lacroix's father said his daughter told 911 operators that she was trapped in a unit with no fire escape or windows.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press