“It shouldn’t have happened,” laments Louis-Philippe Lacroix, whose 18-year-old daughter, Charlie Lacroix, disappeared in the fire that ravaged a building in Place D’Youville last Thursday. He is not the only one in mourning: at least seven people are missing, confirmed the Montreal police service at the end of the evening.
Investigators do not rule out that a higher number of victims are in the rubble, said the Montreal Police Service (SPVM) during a press briefing on Saturday evening.
A major fire ravaged a heritage building in Place D’Youville in Old Montreal on Thursday morning.
Among the occupants of the building, tourists who had rented apartments on the Airbnb platform, yet not authorized in this area of the metropolis, confirmed the arson commander of the SPVM, Steve Belzil.
According to Louis-Philippe Lacroix, his daughter had rented an apartment for an evening on a short-term rental site.
“There were two calls to 911 within three minutes, by my daughter and by the boy she was with, to say there was a fire and she was unable to get out as he was not there was no window. The first time it was my daughter speaking, and three minutes later it was the boy. Both times they were like, ‘Come get us, we can’t get out,’” Lacroix said, citing information authorities provided to him.
A source close to the investigation confirmed to La Presse that the 911 central had received several distress calls from people who were unable to flee the burning building.
At the end of the afternoon, bouquets of flowers began to accumulate in front of the rubble of the burnt building. Through the shattered windows, the charred interior of the building was exposed to passers-by.
At the end of the evening, the division chief at the Montreal Fire Safety Service (SIM) Martin Guilbault announced that the dismantling of the facade would begin this Sunday morning to allow the search for the remains.
“Our surgery will be done with the utmost respect for the victims who may be inside the rubble,” he said. The stones will be stored and preserved.
The owner of the building, Émile Benamor, was met in order to “paint the portrait of the floors with the units”, added Steve Belzil.
Mr. Benamor owns about fifteen buildings on the territory of Montreal, including several houses and multi-unit buildings, according to the Land Registry. He has had a run-in with the City in the past over some of his properties, including a recently vacated illegal rooming house.
Reached briefly on the phone by La Presse, Émile Benamor hung up without answering questions. “Talk to my lawyer,” he blurted out.
Me Alexandre Bergevin, the lawyer for Émile Benamor, declared that tenants who lived in the building were indeed doing short-term subletting illegally on AirBnb, but he assures that the owner himself never did such short-term rentals.
At Radio-Canada, Alina Kuzmina and her spouse testified that they escaped the flames. “There was no fire alarm, no sound, no word. We were awakened by smoke and the sound of fire. My husband grabbed a boot, he smashed the window, and that’s how we managed to get out, ”said the Ontarian passing through Montreal.
Initially, only one person, a 70-year-old woman, was missing.
During the fire, nine people were taken to hospital, and two of them are still hospitalized with serious burns, Belzil said on Saturday. A firefighter was also injured while battling the blaze after receiving blood from a victim in his eye.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. It is too early in the investigation to assess whether breaches of the building code could have caused the fire or be partly responsible for the death of its occupants.
As of Sunday, the investigators will begin to appraise the scene with the assistance of pathologists. Thursday, Martin Guilbault, of the SIM, had argued in a press briefing that “the smoke detectors in some of the dwellings were possibly defective”, which he did not reiterate on Saturday.
“Because we haven’t entered the building yet, we can’t confirm or deny the presence of smoke alarms,” he said. This will be part of the investigation that we will be conducting in the coming days. »
Residents of the area who had to be evacuated were able to return to their homes. Buildings near the fire were spared the flames.