Suspicious fires increasingly common in Nanaimo, RCMP and fire department warn
NANAIMO, B.C. -- Nanaimo's fire department and RCMP detachment are banding together to deal with a problem that has escalated over the past three months, with more than 20 suspicious fires occurring in the community's downtown core.
"They are arsons, they have been deliberately set,” says Const. Gary O’Brien, spokesperson for Nanaimo RCMP. “Our bike squad is taking the lead on this and they've identified a few people.”
So far, no charges have been laid, but RCMP say it appears a few of the city's homeless population are responsible for some – but not all – of the fires.
"The trouble is escalating and we're moving into the warmer weather so there's an educational piece involved,” O’Brien says. “We're telling the owners that you have to look at your dumpsters and remove any flammable materials.”
O'Brien and Nanaimo Fire Chief Tim Doyle say the problem could also be felt by residential home owners.
"We'd like everyone to make sure they remove all the combustibles around the perimeter of their building,” Doyle says. “Make sure they don't leave any cardboard, pallets, cooking oil, styrofoam packing or other garbage that could be used to light fires."
The chief is also asking people to practice good landscaping by keeping their lawns short and any vegetation away from buildings so it doesn't catch businesses or residences on fire.
Doyle says he is concerned about the amount of resources the preventable fires are taking up.
"It is frustrating and it is a challenge,” Doyle says. “It stretches our resources thin and it has an impact on public safety and an impact on first responders."
One of those affected by the fires is Ajac's Equipment owner Tom Halsall.
He says his business was hit by arson twice in the early morning of June 4, beginning around 2 a.m.
"The firemen came the first time and put the dumpster fire out and found the guy and the police hauled him away and then the other fire happened a couple of hours later around 4:30," Halsall says.
In the second incident, some packing materials were set on fire and the blaze made its way inside a portion of the building that was used for storage.
"There was three customers’ tractors that were actually damaged in the fire,” he says. “It was mostly storage. We have accessories, baggers, carts, lawnmowers, different things like that.”
Halsall says even though he is insured, he will now have to wait several months before he can get permits through city hall to do work inside the building, including removing damaged items and checking for any asbestos in the older structure. He says he and others are frustrated by the escalating problem.
"When they catch them, there's nothing that's done,” Halsall says. “The government's hands are tied. They can't put them in jail, they can't treat them, they just send them out in the streets and they do more. It's just crazy."