Police investigate the scene of a fire set under the porch of a house near downtown Nanaimo Thursday. Police arrested a man suspected of setting four fires.

Police investigate the scene of a fire set under the porch of a house near downtown Nanaimo Thursday. Police arrested a man suspected of setting four fires.

Arson suspect arrested after police chase

NANAIMO – Man suspected of setting seven fires arrested after police chase in downtown Nanaimo.

Police in Nanaimo have a man in custody who is suspected of setting seven fires and threatening people with a knife Thursday morning.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue responded to the first of a series of small fires set in some construction debris on the 700 block of Nicol Street, shortly before 7 a.m.

“A passerby had already put that out with an extinguisher by the time crews got there,” said Capt. Ennis Mond, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer.

But in the immediate area firefighters also discovered debris in a shopping cart had been set alight in an empty lot, pine shrubbery was burned on city property near the Nicol and Robins streets intersection had been ignited near the Days Inn about a block away.

Two other fires, one also near the Days Inn, reported shortly after 8 a.m., and a fire under the porch of a house at the corner of Finlayson Street and Victoria Road at about 9:30 a.m. are still under investigation to determine if they were maliciously set or if they were intended as fires for warmth set by homeless people.

Three of the seven fires were set underneath the same dwelling in the 600 block of Nicol Street, but were extinguished by firefighters before they could cause significant damage.

Firefighters were wrapping up from the Finlayson fire when the same suspect ran into a commercial building at 55 Victoria Rd. and threatened employees with a knife, but apparently was not targeting anyone or any business, according to Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, in a press release.

Police already near the scene rushed into the building, but the suspect fled out of the building and ran down Victoria Road toward downtown. He was arrested shortly after 10 a.m. in Port Place Shopping Centre.

Police are recommending the 54-year-old man be held for psychiatric evaluation and face charges, including seven counts of arson, three counts of uttering threats, one count of possession of a weapon and several counts of mischief.  He is scheduled to appear in provincial court in Nanaimo on Friday (April 24).