VANCOUVER -- A fire that caused thousands of dollars of damage at a convenience store in Nanaimo Saturday night was sparked when an alleged shoplifter fired a flare into the store, according to police.

Nanaimo RCMP say the fire was the result of "a shoplifting incident" at the Circle K convenience store on Departure Bay Road shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday.

City of Nanaimo Fire and Rescue crews were called to the scene and extinguished the blaze.

Police say the lone employee of the store told them two young men entered the business, selected a few items and left without paying. As they were leaving, one of the suspects shot a tube flare in the direction of the employee, police said.

Officers went looking for the suspects after the incident, but were unable to find them. They were, however, able to identify both suspects from video surveillance footage.

The suspects are 16 years old, and police "have dealt with both" before, according to Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson Const. Gary O'Brien.

The fire caused significant structural damage inside and outside the store, police said, noting that the damage was so extensive the owners were required to bring plywood to the scene to secure the premises.

Investigators are currently looking for the two teenagers, and O'Brien said he expects it's only a matter of time before they are brought to justice.

O'Brien said the store employee was "traumatized" by the incident, but "extremely lucky" to not be physically injured.

He described the crime as "absolutely reckless, extremely dangerous, with no thought or consideration of the risk and potential harm to the business and the employee."

The store will likely remain closed for several days, and much of the merchandise that wasn't destroyed by fire will need to be destroyed because of smoke or water damage, O'Brien said.

And all of that damage is the result of a theft worth only "several dollars," according to O'Brien. He said the suspects took "just an insignificant amount of products."