Nanaimo Fire Rescue and RCMP are investigating six suspicious fires set in one day around the city yesterday.
Firefighters started responding to small fires set in a wooded area near Townsite Road on Tuesday morning, May 25, and responded to more fires throughout the day.
“Last night we had three suspicious dumpster fires,” said Capt. Alan Millbank, head of Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s Fire and Loss Prevention division. “Three brush fires related to homeless camping.”
Millbank said the city is dealing with increasing numbers of fires related to homelessness and several people who frequent Nanaimo’s downtown are suspected of setting fires.
“RCMP have taken us up on investigating all these fires, so we’re having them respond along with us to all these suspicious fires … and they’re building up a case, I understand,” Millbank said.
The fires early in the day included a dumpster fire on Dufferin Crescent, two small fires in a wooded are near Townsite Road and an illegal fire in a homeless encampment on Caledonia Avenue.
“So we had a bunch in an area and and they’re probably related to the sites where we have known homeless encampments,” Millbank said.
He said city bylaws officers are keeping track of such fires and are working with the RCMP and with Nanaimo parks and recreation to try and do as much abatement work to lessen the risk of bush fires before fire season starts. He expects it will likely be a busy fire season this year.
He also noted that not all fires are started maliciously.
“We’re dealing with people who have mental health issues, so they’re not always making good decisions. There’s not a lot we can do about that. We just have to deal with it when it happens,” Millbank said. “A lot of these issues are related to mental health, drug addiction and desperation.”
Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, confirmed police are taking part in the investigation into the fires.
“It’s of significant concern to us,” O’Brien said. “The weather’s getting drier. Our bike patrol is addressing this issue in conjunction with the fire department and we take these very seriously because it’s just a matter of time before one of these fires gets out of control and there’s significant damage to property.”
O’Brien said police are focusing on a “limited number of individuals” who police believe would be involved in lighting fires and the RCMP is also working with city bylaws and outreach workers.