RCMP seeking video, images as part of fatal fire investigation

Prince George RCMP are investigating after a fire at downtown motel on Wednesday morning claimed the lives of three people.

Prince George RCMP Cpl. Craig Douglass said firefighters located their bodies in the Econolodge at 910 Victoria Street motel shortly after midday and that the RCMP's serious crime section has been called in to investigate.

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"Police were advised by fire personnel, that the fire appeared to be suspicious; however the investigation is just beginning and cause has not yet been determined," Douglass said in a statement.

Identities of the victims are not being released.

RCMP are asking for video and images that may have been taken between 7 and 9 a.m. within a couple-block radius of the scene to help with the investigation.

"Dashcam video driving by, cellphones, surveillance images, that would help," Douglass said.

Anyone who can help in that regard is asked to call the detachment at 250-561-3300.

Specially trained investigators will be on the scene for a number of days gathering evidence. The investigation will also look into complaints that the motel's fire alarms failed to go off.

"We're going to investigate anything that might lead to criminal charges," Douglass said.

Erupting sometime before 9 a.m., the fire produced flames visible from outside the building, sent out a plume of foul-smelling smoke and closed a portion of Victoria Street to traffic for most of the day. Firefighters were kept busy working to douse the blaze and keep it spreading to neighbouring buildings.

It created some tense moments for Colleen Punko, the owner of a neighbouring building at 935 Brunswick Street that backs up closely to where the fire was at its worst.

Punko said it made her heart beat much faster as she realized quickly they needed to evacuate the building and move their vehicles out of the parking lot to make room for the fire fighting crews to do their job.

"We got our staff out and we're all safe and that's all we really care about," Punko said. "The fire department is doing a fantastic job of keeping our building safe, too."

There was a member of the fire crew stationed in between the buildings that kept the fire from crossing to the all-brick structure built in 1988. Punko said the back of the building doesn't have any windows in it so she's hopeful there isn't too much smoke damage done to the interior.

"I just spoke to a fellow who used to work for us and he's a couple of blocks up and he's getting smoke in his office, but I'm hoping we don't get too much in ours," Punko said. "It's amazing how the fire keeps shifting. It's up here one minute and then it's way over there and now it's come back this way again. The fire department is not leaving their post. They are staying right there keeping our building safe."

About two dozen people were evacuated and through the City's emergency support services, the Red Cross was called in to help out. Supports for the evacuees include three days of lodging and food vouchers, clothing from the Salvation Army, emotional support services, pet care and a daily taxi voucher.

"Obviously, not all of these services will be required for each evacuee, but they are available to them through ESS if they need them," City spokesman Mike Kellett said.

The B.C. Coroners Service has also been alerted, the agency's spokesman has confirmed.

"We are investigating to determine who died, and to investigate how, where, when and by what means," Andy Watson said. "Our fact-finding investigation is in the very early stages so I have no other information to share at this time."

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