A week after the fire that ravaged a building in Place D’Youville, in Old Montreal, several questions remain unanswered. Four bodies have so far been found, but three other victims are still missing.
For now, only one victim of the Old Montreal blaze has officially been identified. This is Camille Maheux, a 76-year-old photographer who had lived in the building for 30 years.
If the three victims still missing are found in the next few days, the total death toll linked to this fire would then be seven victims. To find a more deadly fire in the metropolis, you have to go back almost 50 years ago, more precisely to January 1975.
On January 21 of that year, Richard Blass, nicknamed The Cat, entered the Gargantua bar. Several customers and its manager were then killed, before the business was set on fire. A total of 13 people died in this fire. Blass had escaped from Saint-Vincent-de-Paul penitentiary three months earlier. After a vast manhunt, on January 24, 1975, he was shot down by several bursts of bullets by the police, in Val-David, in the Laurentians.
Fires causing so many victims are rather rare. In fact, Montreal deplores a dozen deaths on average per year due to fire. The most recent data from the Montreal Fire Department (SIM) shows 12 deaths attributable to fire in 2022, 13 in 2021, 13 in 2020 and 12 in 2019. The deadliest year to date is 2011, with 17 deaths in fires.
In 2021, the most frequent causes of fires were smokers’ articles (3) or an electrical problem (2). The causes of five blazes remained “undetermined”, and three events are categorized as “Other”. Investigations into fires causing death are usually entrusted to the SPVM, especially when criminal elements are detected.
The fire also revived the debate this week on Airbnb rentals, since several people missing in the fire had rented their accommodation on the application, while this type of rental is illegal in Old Montreal. On Thursday, Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx held a “close” meeting with platform leaders.
In the process, Airbnb announced that it will remove from its pages all accommodations that do not display a registration number from the Corporation de l’industrie touristique du Québec (CITQ), throughout the province, such as asked for it this week Quebec, the City of Montreal and other municipalities. They also asked for more inspectors from Quebec.
Although it is “always a possibility”, the eventuality of finding more than seven victims in the rubble of the building in Old Montreal ravaged by a serious fire is at the very least “improbable” at this stage of the investigation. investigation, Montreal police said on Friday.
“We have no information [according to which] additional victims are in the rubble,” said Inspector David Shane, spokesman for the Montreal Police Service, in the morning at a press briefing. “It’s always a possibility, but at this point it seems unlikely to us,” he said.
Earlier this week, on Wednesday, a first victim of the Place d’Youville building fire was identified: Camille Maheux, a 76-year-old photographer who had lived in the building for 30 years. The same day, the police also confirmed in the evening that they had extricated two other bodies from the rubble of the building.
A second body had been located, then extricated from the building last Tuesday. However, his identity has not yet been confirmed. With the two bodies discovered on Wednesday evening, there would therefore still be three people missing among the rubble of the building.
Recently, the arrival of a second crane has enabled the 20 firefighters and other patrollers to “accelerate the search work”. “It allowed us to remove large unstable parts, including steel beams and large parts of the roof. This will allow us to explore the building in more depth, “said the division manager of the Montreal Fire Department (SIM), Martin Guilbault.
The latter maintains that the objective is to “increase the pace” of excavations, while ensuring the safety of the workers, who systematically work “above” the risk of collapse. “We think we might be able to save the facade of the building,” Mr. Guilbault also mentioned. For the rest, identification efforts for the three other victims found are continuing, but it is still “not possible to provide an estimate of the time” the process will take, according to Mr. Shane.
Three conditions must first be met, he recalled: the identification must first have been confirmed by two separate methods, at least one of which is scientific, and expert opinions must have been carried out. Finally, the family must have been informed. Moreover, press briefings on the state of the research will no longer necessarily be done on a daily basis. They will only be required “upon significant developments”.