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‘It’s out of control’: More than 20 fires set in downtown Nanaimo in past three months

Authorities asking business owners to keep dumpsters locked
A still image from security camera video recorded June 8 shows an individual lighting trash on fire in the doorway of 19+ Cannabis Store on Victoria Crescent. RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue are investigating numerous fires set in downtown Nanaimo in the past three months. (Photo submitted)

Nanaimo Fire Rescue and RCMP investigators are trying to track down whoever is behind fires being set in the city.

In the past three months more than 20 fires have been deliberately set in downtown Nanaimo.

According to an RCMP press release, many of the fires were minor and often fuelled with cardboard and other flammable materials found in dumpsters.

A fire June 4 started outside a business on Cliff Street caused significant damage. In the early-morning hours June 12, numerous firefighting resources were called out after someone lit a pair of track pants on fire on a fence along Nicol Street.

“To date, our officers have identified several persons of interest who may be responsible for some of these fires,” Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said in the press release. “There are still many fires that remain unsolved and this is troubling.”

The RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue are co-ordinating efforts. Firefighters, often the first on scene, play an integral role in collecting essential information and forensic evidence and identifying possible suspects and witnesses of incidents, the release noted.

RELATED: Suspicious fires strike Nanaimo business twice in four days

Kevan Shaw, president of the Victoria Crescent Association, said he has personally witnessed one person set multiple fires and worries about a major fatal fire being ignited downtown.

“It’s got to end,” Shaw said. “It’s out of control. There is not just going to be buildings that are burning down, there’s going to be blocks that are burning down and people are going to get killed. The people lighting them, obviously, are setting them on purpose. It’s not for warmth. It’s to light fires purposely or to cook their drugs on the street or next to a building and this has to end.”

Shaw also lays part of the responsibility on downtown business operators who don’t ensure waste packing material and other combustible items, such as wooden pallets, aren’t cleared away and secured each night.

“Businesses and building owners have really got to step up to the plate and lock their dumpsters. Lock their cardboard dumpsters. Lock their garbage cans. Take away all the materials from the sides of their buildings,” he said. “Some of them just aren’t getting it.”

RELATED: Nanaimo firefighters and RCMP called to 6 suspicious fires in one day

Tim Doyle, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, said in the release that the department is concerned about combustible materials being stored outside businesses overnight.

“These need to be locked and the waste material disposed of or removed from the site daily,” he said.

Other fire prevention tips include ensuring cardboard, pallets, used cooking oil containers, polystyrene foam packaging and other packaging are removed. Trash and combustible debris should be cleared from around buildings, alcoves and alleys and property owners should be keeping lawns mowed and landscaping maintained to reduce the amount of flammable material around businesses and residences.

In some instances, police said, suspects will check out potential targets prior to setting fires, so home and business owners are warned to be aware of such activity and report it immediately.

Anyone with information about who might be involved with setting fires is asked to call the Nanaimo RCMP non-emergency line at 250-754-2345.
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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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