Nanaimo RCMP have a man in custody following a suspected arson in Harewood, but the homeowner is upset that there will be no accountability for the crime.
A fire was allegedly set in a garage and workshop behind a home on the 400 block of Eighth Street early Tuesday, March 23. Firefighters and police were called at about 4:30 a.m. by the homeowners who reported a man had been on the back porch of their home and was still on their property.
“The homeowner confirmed a suspicious male was in the driveway who may have started the fire,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman.
Firefighters arrived to find the garage and carport fully engulfed in flames and police arrived to find a suspect on the property who allegedly claimed he was anticipating alien contact. He was arrested on suspicion of arson.
“The suspect, a 27-year-old male of no fixed address, was arrested at the scene without incident and lodged in cells,” O’Brien said. “Members suspect there are significant mental health issues. Our mental health liaison officer has been looped in to this and will be following up before any reports to Crown are completed.”
Cost of the loss from the fire is estimated at more than $100,000, which included the building, tools, fuel and a rare edition of a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle car.
A retired Nanaimo firefighter, Brian Mowatt, said he found the suspect on the deck at the back of his home, peering through a bedroom window. The heat from the burning garage, more than 12 metres away, was starting to melt the siding on the house. Mowatt said he didn’t know if firefighters would arrive in time to save his house.
“So my concern was when this fire hit – the guy’s on my back stairs, I told him to stay there – I ran back to get my father out of the house, not caring about the car,” Mowatt said.
Mowatt, who’d brought his 94-year-old father home to care for him weeks earlier after a lengthy stay in hospital, carried him out of the house and put him in a vehicle a safe distance away. By then it was too late to try to move the car to save it.
The loss of the Chevelle was painful for Mowatt. He had restored the car in memory of his best friend, who died of cancer soon after after he and Mowatt found a convertible model of the car in Florida after a lengthy search.
“He got to drive it once and then he got sick,” Mowatt said. “I took him out once in it and I drove it more after he passed, trying to get it ready to sell it.”
After that car sold, Mowatt found one to restore as an “homage” to their friendship.
“I couldn’t afford a convertible, but I found a Chevelle…” he said. “It’s just stuff, but it was my stuff and this was my homage to my best friend that died … It was one of 444 [built] in a six-cylinder with high options. It wasn’t a high-value car, but it was complete and it was mine … I never once expected someone to come along and light my shop on fire.”
Mowatt knows nothing about the suspect other than what he has learned from police and does not understand why his home was targeted.
“I said, ‘Why. Why would you do this?’ He said, ‘I tried to break in and I couldn’t steal anything, so I set it on fire,’ His exact words,” Mowatt said.
Mowatt said he’s frustrated and feels a sense of loss following the fire.
“We’ve got to change the system, make these people accountable. We have to ensure that the taxpayer is properly protected, even in your own damn home. You have a right to protect your own property, a right to protect your own family and have a right to restitution,” Mowatt said. “Why is the government not held accountable for this? … Why aren’t we putting these people into a structured facility, clean them up, get them their education and make them contribute to society? I don’t see how wrong that is. I really don’t.”