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New Westminster fire: Then and now

10/11/2014 02:43 EDT | Updated 12/11/2014 05:59 EST
It is one year since a massive inferno broke out on Columbia Street in downtown New Westminster, B.C., destroying roughly half a block of the historic neighbourhood.

Now, the CBC's digital reporter Dan Burritt has gone back to the scene to see how the blaze changed the face of the city.

The fire broke out sometime before 3:40 a.m. PT on Thursday 10 October at the E.L. Lewis building on the corner of Columbia and MacKenzie streets.

By 5 a.m. the building was engulfed in flames.

Then

Now

Can't see images? Click here to go to an enlarged before/after photogallery

Many of the buildings in the historic downtown neighbourhood were built after the Great Fire of 1898 destroyed much of downtown New Westminster and had wooden frames behind their brick facades.

By 6 a.m. the E.L. Lewis building that had housed the Copp's family shoe store for 90 years had collapsed. A new bridal shop and a restaurant in the building were also destroyed.

Then

Now

For a short time the fire appeared be under control, but by 6:50 a.m. the flames had broken out again in at least one neighbouring business, and firefighters were battling to get the fire under control.

By 7:30 a.m. the fire had destroyed several more businesses on Columbia and Front streets, including several bridal shops, a restaurant, a bead shop and some lawyers' offices. 

Shortly after 9 a.m., firefighters finally managed to get the fire under control. They spent the rest of the day putting out the remains of the blaze and trying to save other businesses threatened by the fire.

Then

Now

Businesses rebuild, but for many it's a struggle

Overall, about a dozen businesses, including a restaurant, a bridal shop and a specialty paint store, were damaged or destroyed in the fire.

Fat Paint owner Victoria Lambert says it's been a tough, but rewarding year.

"It's put a, gosh, pardon the pun, fire in our belly, to really push forward and make something more of what we had already started," she told CBC News.

Antique dealer Amanda Carrick lost everything in her Front Street shop. She moved into a much larger space right beside Fat Paint but says the past year has been very tough.​"We're working seven days a week to try to succeed at this," she said.

Some neighbouring businesses are tired of traffic disruptions around the site and want something built soon, but New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright says it could still take up to two years for that to happen.

"You can`t put anything on it until you've got plans, said Wright. "You've got to have people interested in it, and you have to put the right things. I think we`re on the same page with them there because there will be commercial.  I think we want to make it look, give it some heritage look to it, to what was there."

Police have finished their investigation into the fire and no criminal charges are expected. Still, the official cause of the blaze hasn't been released.

From the archives

On mobile? Click here to see how the CBC reported from the scene of the fire

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