Mail deliveries to Victoria’s View Towers halted amid safety fears

Canada Post has suspended mail delivery to View Towers because of safety and air quality concerns after last week’s fire.

A notice posted above mailboxes on Thursday informed residents of the mail stoppage, saying: “When the inspectors declare the building is safe, we will resume delivery.”

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The note said residents can pick up their mail at a postal outlet at 621 Discovery St.

About 70 residents have been displaced due to fire, smoke and water damage to 86 suites — 63 of which were occupied. Those who have been allowed back in have been warned about air-quality issues, with possible asbestos contamination.

Rob Johns, Victoria emergency co-ordinator, told Victoria councillors Thursday that repairs to the damaged units will take several months.

“The outcome for the building is that there’s a need for asbestos abatement,” Johns said.

“There’s some asbestos in some of the walls and the ceiling and there’s also a requirement to fix drywall that’s gotten wet to prevent mould. So there’s quite a repair job to be done to the building.

“The outcome will be that those suites will actually be closed for several months.”

The fire, on May 15, destroyed the ninth-floor suite where it was started by a lit cigarette.

“The issue with the building is the fire itself caused damage to a single suite, so kudos to Victoria Fire for keeping it to that,” Johns said.

“Unfortunately, fires also have byproducts — smoke, soot and water. And that’s really what’s caused the damage in the building.

“There’s been ongoing environmental assessing,” he said.

“Daily, there has been particulate matter assessing underway. Those values have been dropping consistently every day.”

In the past decade, there have been four major fires at View Towers that resulted in injuries or left people displaced.

Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce said yearly fire safety inspections show the building meets minimum safety standards.

At their meeting Thursday, city councillors expressed concern for what would happen if there was a fire in one of the upper-storey suites.

The ladder truck that pumped water from the exterior onto flames pouring out of the ninth-floor suite was at its maximum height at 32 metres and would not be able to reach the upper floors of the 19-storey building.

In an interview, Bruce said if there was a fire on the 13th storey or higher, firefighters would only be able to do an interior attack — tackling the blaze from inside the building.

An exterior attack has the benefit of preventing the fire from lapping up to other suites and calms the flames before firefighters enter from inside, Bruce said.

“It makes it somewhat safer for them,” he said.

“There’s a little bit of a dissipation of the heat in that suite. It allows them somewhat of a better opportunity when they’re entering on the interior attack.”

The building does not have a sprinkler system because that was not a requirement when it was built in the 1960s. Bruce wouldn’t say whether the fire department has any power to enforce the installation of a sprinkler system.

“We will be following up with any concerns that we hear as result of this,” Bruce said.

The Red Cross, Salvation Army and Pacifica Housing set up an information centre at View Towers on Thursday to assist displaced residents unsure where they are going to stay after lodging at the University of Victoria expired Thursday morning.

“We’re working with the clients on an individual basis to find the best long-term solution for their circumstance right now,” said Gary Carleton, a response co-ordinator for disaster management with the Red Cross.

“We want people to be able to build their own capacity because it is long-term. So they are eventually going to have to find their own place.”

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said he understands residents’ frustrations.

“We are asking the same questions that [residents] are asking,” he said. “We’re all working hard to find a suitable resolution as fast as possible.”

When the owner of View Towers is prepared to start the remediation, Fortin said the city will expedite permits for building, electrical and plumbing repairs.

The Red Cross is asking for monetary donations to help displaced residents who have lost furniture or clothes due to smoke and water damage.

Anyone who would like to donate, should visit 909 Fairfield Road or call 250-382-2043.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

This is a corrected version of an earlier story.

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