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Fire on roof of historic Banff hotel sparked accidentally by propane torch

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Fire on roof of historic Banff hotel sparked accidentally by propane torch

A fire that gutted the top floor of a historic hotel in Banff, Alta., over the holidays — forcing several hundred guests to flee in the middle of the night, many in their bedclothes — was sparked by a propane torch on the roof, investigators say.

The Dec. 29 fire at the Mount Royal Hotel on Banff Avenue forced the relocation of about 300 guests to other hotels.

A roofing crew had been working on the roof the previous day.

Investigators concluded that the fire was accidentally ignited by a torch, and went undetected between construction materials, smouldering for several hours before it became a full-blown fire sometime after 2 a.m., said Banff fire Chief Silvio Adamo.

"If that flame happens to penetrate a crack, or a space, it has the potential to ignite combustible material [and] there was plenty of combustible material in that roof structure," he said. 

Alberta's fire code requires roofing companies to keep a fire watch on site for two hours after work involving open flame, a regulation the roofing company followed, Adamo said. 

"At this time, we're not considering this as a suspicious fire. This is accidental," he said. 

About two dozen Banff firefighters battled the blaze with the help of crews from the nearby communities of Canmore, Lake Louise and Exshaw. There were no injuries. 

Damage pegged at $15M

Mark Hendrikse works for Brewster Travel, which owns the hotel and said the company is waiting for the insurance company's final report. 

"But until that point in time we are still focused on the last of our guests as well as our team members and ensuring they will have adequate employment moving forward," he said.

Hendrikse said 10 rooms were completely destroyed and the rest of the building suffered smoke and water damage. Repair are expected to take several months. 

The fire department estimated the damage at $15 million.

The Mount Royal Hotel was built in 1908. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1967 and the hotel was rebuilt the following year.

Industry standards

Adamo said it might be time for the roofing industry to change the process that was used on the hotel's roof. It involves multiple layers of wood-fibre board, polystyrene, bitumen rubber and flame-heated tar.

"In my mind, I think, it sort of draws a larger question. Because this isn't something that is a one-off type of ignition. This happens," he said.

"I wouldn't say on a regular basis, but it does happen frequently enough that I think we maybe need to look at the industry standards, and the application process and maybe make some changes."

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