An investigation into two fires at homeless camps in Nanaimo has been turned over to police.
Firefighters put out bush fires that broke out in two different places along the banks of the Millstone River on Thursday.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue was called out at about 9 p.m. to Barsby Park and according to crews on scene, found two different fires along the northern bank. One crew fought one of the fires from across the river on the Barsby Avenue side, while another crew extinguished a fire further up the hill, close to Caledonia Avenue.
Crews said it wasn’t just trees on fire, also garbage and possibly a tent. The fires were each about 12 metres by 12 metres in area and were spaced about 60 metres apart.
Firefighters brought the flames under control to prevent the fires from spreading, and ultimately snuffed out both fires.
Alan Millbank, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer, said both fires were “related to homelessness” but determining how the fires started is proving difficult.
“One camp was completely burnt and the other one just missed getting burnt,” Millbank said.
Millbank listed off a number of possibilities for how the fires could have started, all of which ranged from accidental to suspicious, but fire investigators, through scene investigation and witness interviews, have been unable to prove what, or who might have started them.
“That’s why we’re calling it ‘undetermined,’” Millbank said.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue turned the investigation over to the RCMP.
“We got a call last night about 9:30,” said Sgt. Jon Stuart, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman. “Our guys went down there and, yeah, there was some fires and there was a person that they spoke to, but trying to prove anything is going to be more than difficult. You can’t prove that the person that was there is responsible.”
Stuart said the RCMP is considering the investigation closed unless some new evidence leading to a definite cause, or a suspect comes to light.
“The cause is suspicious … but it falls back to the fire department for anything that they may have, but we don’t have enough to proceed with anything,” Stuart said.
Millbank said there have been a number of fires in parks and undeveloped areas already in April, especially over the Easter long weekend. Not all can be attributed to homelessness.
“Some of that’s attributable to kids being out of school,” he said. “There’s always an uptick when kids are out of school.”
Millbank said conditions are already dry enough for fires to start easily and people should be wary of possible ignition sources, such as cigarette butts.
“You get those howling northwesters (winds) and they feed the cherry on the cigarettes in the grass and away they go,” Millbank said.
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