Plaza Hotel caretaker suspected of causing fire, may have perished in flames: VicPD
VICTORIA -- One year after a massive arson fire destroyed a downtown Victoria hotel and left the building’s caretaker missing, the Victoria police say they are no closer to solving either the crime or the man’s disappearance.
However, police do say that the building’s caretaker, Mike Draeger, is believed to be the only suspect in the crime.
“We believe that he is the suspect,” said VicPD Det-Const. Andre Almeida Thursday. “[The fire] really points to having intimate knowledge of the building that anybody else would not have.”
The five-storey Plaza Hotel building caught fire on May 6, 2019. The building burned for days, damaging several adjacent buildings and forcing the evacuation of still more in the city’s downtown core.
Thursday’s update was the first time that VicPD named Draeger as a suspect in the fire. Police say that the arson investigation, and Draeger’s missing person investigation, remain open.
When asked why police considered the fire to be suspicious, Almeida said that first impressions of initial fire crews at the scene, and evidence of tampering within the building’s sprinkler system, suggested arson.
Almeida says that fire crews were first called to the area after fire alarms were activated in a neighbouring building beside the Plaza Hotel.
It wasn’t until firefighters arrived that they saw smoke coming out of the fourth floor of the Plaza Hotel. As the initial fire crew attended to the upper-floor flames, a second fire crew spotted a fire in the basement area of the building.
“They believe there was at least two fires, so that in itself is suspicious,” said Almeida.
After the fire was doused, VicPD says that there was evidence that the building’s sprinkler system “had been tampered with,” further suggesting that the fire was suspicious.
While police are unsure of Draeger’s current whereabouts, investigators say that he may have perished in the fire, despite no human remains being found.
“Due to the heat and the fact that the fire went on for such a long time… elevators and stairwells could have actually acted as a chimney at that time,” said Almeida.
“So, there may not have been any human remains to find.”
Police say there is no other evidence that Draeger has left the island, or the country. VicPD says Canadian border services never recorded Draeger leaving the country, and his bank account activity has remained dormant since the fire.
Almeida adds that there is no indication that the owners of the building “were involved in any way.”
On Thursday, police announced that they had “exhausted all investigative avenues” into the fire.
“There are currently no new leads to pursue,” police said in a statement Thursday.
“The file will remain classified as an arson. The missing person file associated to Mr. Draeger will remain an open and active investigation.”