Police say the number of people missing has risen from six to seven after a massive fire ripped through a historic building in Old Montreal on Thursday.
Work to partially dismantle the building will begin Sunday morning, said police and fire officials in an address to the media Saturday night.
They believe victims will be found in the rubble.
The second and third floors of the 15-unit building on Place d’Youville will be torn down “stone by stone,” said Montreal fire operations chief Martin Guilbault.
Firefighters have not yet been able to enter the building due to safety concerns.
The partial demolition will be done slowly to protect the workers and preserve the building’s heritage, said Guilbault.
Montreal police arson commander Steve Belzil said it’s too soon to say whether the fire was criminal.
The owner of the building is cooperating with investigators, said Belzil.
FAMILIES FEAR THE WORST
One of the people missing is 18-year-old Charlie Lacroix from Terrebonne, just north of Montreal.
Her loved ones say she was staying with a friend in an Airbnb on the second floor.
“A friend of my daughter told us that she was there the night before, so we went to the police station and found out she had placed two calls at 911 in a period of three minutes saying that they couldn’t get out because they were no windows in the room,” her father Louis-Philippe Lacroix said.
“Hearing this news and having to break it to my boy and people is seriously the worst thing to go through as a parent,” Lacroix said.
On Saturday, friends and family of the teen gathered at the site of the fire, where a makeshift memorial has grown.
People have begun laying flowers in front of the apartment building where a major fire broke out on March 16, 2023. Six people remain missing and authorities fear their bodies may be in the rubble. (Olivia O’Malley/CTV News)
“I don’t believe it. I’m in complete denial. I don’t want it to be true. I just want to wake up and for it to be a bad dream,” said Kelly Ann Seguin, Lacroix’s friend.
Lacroix said authorities have not found his daughter’s body, but members of the Montreal fire department (SSIM) and Montreal police (SPVM) arson squad held a news conference on Saturday morning and said there may be victims in the building.
“The information validated in the last few hours, coming from various sources, allows us to believe that there may be victims inside the rubble,” said SIM captain Martin Guilbault.
Among the missing people is 75-year-old photographer Camille Maheux, who lived in the building for 30 years.
Two of the nine people injured are still hospitalized at the burn centre of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM).
UNAUTHORIZED AIRBNB UNITS
Some of the apartments were Airbnb units, police confirmed on Saturday.
Montreal bylaws require building owners to acquire a classification certificate for short-term rentals such as Airbnb.
Montreal city councillor Alain Vaillancourt is responsible for public security, and he said there were no certificates issued for the building in question.
“There’s only a certain sector here in Ville Marie you can have Airbnbs on Saint Catherine [Street]; this is not one of them,” said Vaillancourt. “Ville Marie never received a request for a permit for an Airbnb here, and there were never complaints of an Airbnb in this building.”
Alina Kuzmina and her husband were sleeping in a unit they rented on Airbnb when the fire broke out.
They escaped by jumping through a basement window.
“Once I got out of the window, I looked to the right, and I saw a person who just jumped from the window on the second floor,” said Kuzmina.
She says they saw smoke seeping through the door but never heard an alarm.
“If the fire alarm went off, we probably wouldn’t have had to risk our lives, and we would have maybe had time to grab more things because a lot of our belongings were left in there,”she said.
Alina Kuzmina and her husband escaped through a basement window as the historic building in Old Montreal went up in flames on March 16, 2023. (Source: Alina Kuzmina)
With files from the Canadian Press.