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Fire destroys Winnipeg's Windsor Hotel

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A historic hotel in downtown Winnipeg caught fire on Wednesday, sending clouds of smoke into the sky while prompting road closures and air quality warnings in the area.

Firefighters were called to the Windsor Hotel on Garry Street Wednesday morning due to a fire that spread through the century-old building.

Firefighters and ladder trucks could be seen outside the building, spraying water in an attempt to extinguish the blaze. Thick smoke was visible throughout the area.

One of the walls of the hotel collapsed at approximately 12:45 p.m.

The Winnipeg Police Service posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that Fort and Garry streets at St. Mary Avenue are closed.

Drivers are asked to avoid the area.

Shari Lough works across the street from the hotel. She first noticed smoke on the north side of the building at around 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning and called 911.

“Within a few minutes, fire trucks were just showing up and by then it had gone. It was just coming out of everywhere,” she said.

The city says nearby residents should close their doors and windows due to smoke and monitor their air quality.

A ladder truck works to extinguish a fire at the Windsor Hotel on Sept. 13, 2023. (Image source: Devon McKendrick/CTV News Winnipeg)

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) was chairing a committee meeting on short-term rentals at Winnipeg City Hall when word of the fire got to her.

Air quality in the chamber became so poor, they had to stop the meeting.

Rollins is still waiting to hear what caused the fire in the vacant building.

She, along with Mayor Scott Gillingham and city councillors John Orlinkow and Cindy Gilroy, announced two reports in May that give recommendations aimed at getting vacant building owners to better secure their properties or tear them down.

She said it remains a serious policy issue.

“I'm going to continue working as the chair of property and development to make sure that we have property that is highest and best use in the city, one that we can be proud of and not ones that cause public health issues.”

HISTORIC HOTEL A ONCE POPULAR LIVE MUSIC VENUE

According to the Manitoba Historical Society, the building was built in 1903 as the Le Claire Apartments, and became a hotel in 1930. The building was a popular spot for blues and jazz artists over the years.

The building has been vacant since March, when it was closed due to a health hazard order by the province. A boarded building order was also issued.

There were 25 people living at the hotel when it closed.

Flames can be seen shooting from the roof of the Windsor Hotel during a fire on Sept. 13, 2023. (Image source: Devon McKendrick/CTV News Winnipeg)

Mike Zaleski lives downtown. When he heard about the fire, he came down to see it for himself. He used to go watch live music in the hotel before it was shut down.

“There was a lot of nostalgia and a lot of charm, and I use the word charm. It wasn't really rundown then,” he said.

“I enjoy live music and they were known for their blues.”

Lough is sad to see the building burn, but not surprised.

“There were so many things that went on in that place. It’s kind of historic, but you know, if they could have done something with it, then maybe they could have salvaged it but this doesn't surprise me that this would have happened, not at all.”

Crews work to extinguish a fire at the Windsor Hotel in downtown Winnipeg on Sept. 13, 2023 (Image source: Danton Unger/ CTV News Winnipeg)

WFPS Platoon Chief Brent Cheater said one of the biggest concerns while battling the blaze was toxins from building materials.

“Any building that's built prior to the 50s and 60s has got chemicals, asbestos, things like that, lead-based paints, all of that in the building,” he said. “The fire itself, as things are burning, produces more toxic gases.”

The hotel will be demolished to allow crews to fully extinguish hot spots, Cheater said.

Although the building was supposed to be empty at the time of the fire, Cheater said firefighters currently can’t confirm if someone was inside.

“We didn't send crews into check,” he said. “The fire had already advanced beyond what we would do as an offensive fire, we went strictly defensive.”

Cheater later added, “I will not put my crews at risk in a vacant building and send them into that fire situation on the chance there might be somebody in there. I don't want to have to go home to anybody's family and explain to them why their firefighter partner died as a result of going into a vacant building that really wasn't worth a lot."

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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