Piles of singed timber, stacks of rubble and the lingering smell of smoke are the only clues the public has been offered in regards to the cause of a fire that bathed the city in ashes for days.
On May 6 a fire consumed the Plaza Hotel at 603 Pandora Ave., an otherwise abandoned building save for the possible presence of a live-in caretaker, Mike Draeger. One month later, no new information to Draeger’s whereabouts or the cause of the fire have been released.
The Victoria Police Department calls Draeger “unaccounted for,” a different category than “missing” with different protocols. Photos of Draeger were not issued to the public until May 15, one week after the fire.
Draeger had been a longtime employee at the hotel and became the live-in caretaker in 2013 when the primary business, Monty’s Stripclub, closed down. He’s been described by friends as a secluded person who does not hold social media accounts.
Audrey Draeger, a woman in Ontario, told Black Press that Draeger was her estranged stepson who she hadn’t heard from since 2016, but confirmed that he was a loner who was very artistic.
|Police say the images released were taken prior to the fire and accurately depict what Mike Draeger looks like. (Victoria Police)|
It took a week before investigators could get on scene because piles of smouldering rubble and the threat of collapsing walls barred people from entering the area.
After investigators from the VicPD and the Victoria Fire Department could assess the situation, the fire was deemed suspicious. Unspecified evidence on scene raised red flags for investigators, confirming concerns put forward by Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce, who told Black Press that the fire had “either [been] burning undetected for a long time, or there was rapid fire spread.”
The B.C. Coroner’s Service confirmed that they had not been sent to the scene to deal with human remains.
On May 24, the Victoria Police Department wrapped up their on-site investigations, and returned the hotel to the hands of its owner.
Developers had submitted a proposal to city council in 2017 under the contract of Eric Barker Architects to transform the site into a 100-unit residential building. Plans for the development were moving forward, with the most recent meeting happening on Feb. 27 with the Advisory Design Panel.
No new information has been released to the public, though police say the investigation is ongoing.
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