A longtime downtown Nanaimo business will have to rebuild part of its facility following a fire that caused serious damage.
Ajac’s Equipment has operated at 160 Cliff St. since 1967, but early Friday, June 4, the business became the victim of one of two fires on Cliff Street under investigation by Nanaimo RCMP.
The first fire was allegedly set in a dumpster behind a business at 140 Terminal Ave. shortly after 2 a.m.
“We found somebody lying on the pavement next to the fire, who may have been associated to it, but we certainly can’t say that person started the fire,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman.
A second fire that appeared to start in a pallet and other debris in front of Ajac’s Equipment at about 4:30 a.m. burned the front of the one of the business’s workshops and penetrated into the roof and interior of the building, causing heavy damage to the workshop. The heat was intense enough to blow out the shop’s front windows.
Business owner Tom Halsall said three customers’ riding lawnmowers were damaged by the fire and the shop will have to undergo extensive repairs before it is usable again.
“The roof got a lot of damage and the inside and some pieces of equipment were damaged in there,” Halsall said. “We can’t contact the people. Their information [repair tags were] on the machines and they got torched. Three riding mowers and then other than that it’s just a bunch of damage to the building itself.”
Halsall said the insurance company will have to do environmental tests for asbestos or other contaminants in the building’s material and then decide how to proceed with repairs.
“We’re still open and doing repairs as we can,” Halsall said.
Tuesday morning, June 8, another fire ignited in the space between Ajac’s Equipment and a business next door shortly after 2:30 a.m.
Troy Libbus, Nanaimo Fire Rescue assistant chief, said the fire was started in a small amount of wood and debris.
“It was a small fire and they put it out and then the RCMP were called,” Libbus said.
No damage to either business was reported.
According to statistics from Nanaimo Fire Rescue, firefighters responded to 24 calls throughout May for suspicious fires and fires related to homelessness, such as illegal camp fires. Sixteen such fires were reported in April and 18 in March. In 2020, Nanaimo Fire Rescue documented 133 homeless-related and suspicious fires and there have been 84 such fires tallied as of June 6 for 2021.
O’Brien said Nanaimo RCMP’s Bike Patrol Unit is taking the lead on the investigations into the fires.
“These are all troubling and we’re working with Nanaimo Fire Rescue,” O’Brien said. “When firefighters respond they’re ensuring they secure any forensic evidence, if there is any, and we’re working closely with them.”
O’Brien said police believe “some individuals who are currently homeless may be involved” but police can’t say for certain if they are actually the people setting the fires.
“Thankfully, nobody’s been hurt or killed,” O’Brien said.