Congregants mourn the loss of the Downtown Eastside Community Church in an overnight fire

Worshipers say the lost Street Church on Vancouver’s Hastings Street will not be soon forgotten as a place of refuge and community after the building was destroyed in a fire on Wednesday night.

The church burned down after a fire broke out in an adjoining building in the 100 block of East Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside.

“I can’t believe this is still happening. My heart is so broken,” said Pastor Christina Dawson, who came to the church three years ago.

She watched Wednesday evening as the fire spread through the building.

“As you can see flames rising and smoke billowing, I could see that and I was screaming and crying, ‘no, no, why?'”

Pastor Christina Dawson, right, hugs her husband Virgil on Thursday, after the Downtown Eastside Street Church burned down overnight. (Link Yeung/CBC News)

She says the church helped her get out of homelessness three years ago and became a place of refuge for many others in the Downtown Eastside.

“Coming to Street Church really comforted and rested me,” Dawson said. “A place to rest and a place to eat.”

The church was known to serve meals to around 100 to 200 people a day for years, and while those numbers have dwindled during the pandemic, it has kept its familiar nickname.

The Street Church fire in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside started Wednesday evening and was not extinguished until the following morning. (Link Yeung/CBC News)

“A lot of people called it ‘the hot dog church’ because we serve hot dogs,” Dawson said.

“This church was very important in a community like this,” said churchgoer Marc Lawrence.

“I didn’t go to this church for the food, I went for the message.”

Fire investigation underway

Fire crews were in the neighborhood Thursday morning, working to put out the stubborn fire.

Officials say the fire started just after 9 p.m. Wednesday evening. It took 47 firefighters to finally put it out the next morning.

Investigators are still investigating what started the fire in the alley, the third major blaze in the area in three months.

More than a week ago, the Value Village store on Hastings Street near Victoria Drive was also set on fire. Investigators did not say whether the building fires were related.

“We have no indication if they’re connected at all or if it’s just the moment,” said Matthew Trudeau, a fire information officer for the Vancouver Fire Department.

“[Fire investigators are] look at all the different events that have happened and will make sure that, if there is a connection, they will look into it.”

The Maple Hotel, a single occupancy (SRO) hotel next to Church Street, was evacuated as the fire burned, but officials say residents should be able to return home within the day. The ORS suffered smoke and water damage.

In the meantime, city engineers determine the fate of Street Church, and residents of the other building and the neighborhood worry about its future.

“More housing, but not for us,” Lawrence said. “Young people move in all the time, but the places turn around because they see the lay of the land.”

Norma P. Rex