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Pinecrest Hotel closed by fire marshal

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Dec 05/05) - The fire marshal ordered Fort Smith's Pinecrest Hotel to immediately close on Friday.

Virtually all occupants - 30 long-term apartment dwellers, including two children, and five hotel guests - were ordered to vacate the building Friday afternoon.

"It was unjustified, the way they made everyone leave like that," said hotel operator Bruce Gordier, who was allowed to stay in his apartment for building security.

Gordier received a fax from fire marshal Bernie Van Tighem at about 4:15 p.m. on Friday ordering the immediate closure of the downtown landmark, which was built in 1958.

On Friday night, about 15 people took shelter in the Roaring Rapids Hall, which the Fort Smith Metis Council opened as a temporary shelter, Gordier said. The others stayed with family and friends.

The closure resulted from an inspection of the building by an assistant fire marshal on Nov. 30.

In his fax, Van Tighem wrote the Pinecrest Hotel has "substantial fire hazards," including the lack of a functioning fire alarm system, inadequate fire extinguishers, improper storage of combustibles and a sprinkler system that is not verifiably functioning.

He ordered the hotel closed and brought up to code immediately.

The order can be appealed to a justice of the NWT Supreme Court, and Gordier said that will happen Monday morning.

One of the people forced to leave was Penny Bourke, who also worked as a bartender at the lounge in the building.

"I just can't believe people were treated like that," she said of being forced out of her home.

Bourke said she had lived in the building for eight months, and always felt safe there. She is now staying with family.

Gordier hopes to get the long-term residents back as soon as he can, although he has no idea when the ordered upgrades will be completed.

About half of the hotel's tenants have volunteered to help Gordier with the upgrades.

Gordier said he feels like he has been harassed when looking back on the series of events that led up to the closure.

He explains the Fort Smith Volunteer Fire Department showed up at the hotel at about 2:15 a.m. on Sept. 27 after someone spotted a large amount of smoke coming out of the chimney. They evacuated the building, but found no fire. Gordier said firefighters knocked off door knobs and kicked in doors in their search.

Gordier said the assistant fire marshal, the town's fire chief and the RCMP showed up on Wednesday for the inspection. He said it was the first inspection since 1996.

Gordier has operated the building since January, but he and two partners have been unable to finalize a purchase from the current owner.

The chief of the Fort Smith Volunteer Fire Department and the fire marshall could not be reached for comment before press time.