Police are investigating after a fire burned a Semiahmoo First Nation home to the ground on Wednesday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Surrey RCMP investigating suspicious fires on Semiahmoo reserve

‘It’s very unusual that two arsons would happen across the street from each other,’ says resident

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a vacant house burned down on the Semiahmoo First Nation reserve on the evening of May 29.

The fire follows a Dec. 21 blaze – which police determined to be suspicious – that destroyed the home of Phil Chappell, SFN Chief Harley Chappell’s father.

Last week’s fire occurred across the street from the site of the Dec. 21 fire.

Surrey RCMP Cpl. Elenore Sturko said Wednesday’s fire is also considered suspicious and the investigation is ongoing, however, the Dec. 21 structure fire investigation has been closed unless further information comes forward that can advance the case.

“They went through every available investigative avenue at this point and haven’t identified a suspect,” Sturko said.

SFN non-band resident Randall Wren, who alerted Peace Arch News of Wednesday’s fire, said flames extended up to 50-feet in the air.

“There’s a lot of rumours, so I’m not going to say what the rumours were,” Wren told PAN. “But, it’s very unusual that two arsons would happen across the street from each other on Upper Beach Road.”

SFN non-band resident Robin Moriarty told PAN Monday that the home that burned down Wednesday was undergoing renovations. He said the owners abandoned the project and started moving items out of the house after SFN announced April 2 that non-band members living on the reserve would have to pay $50,000 to hook up to the City of Surrey’s water supply or move.

Moriarty, who lives across the street from the scene of Wednesday’s fire and directly beside the home that burned on Dec. 21, said there has been an increase in property vandalism on the reserve since April.

READ MORE: ‘Pay $50,000 for water or leave,’ Semiahmoo First Nation tells non-member residents

READ MORE: Non-Semiahmoo First Nation members opt out of footing connection costs: chief

Examples of recent vandalism Moriarty provided to PAN included: a turned-over car port, kicked-in fences, broken windows, and damage to vehicles.

Moriarty, who has lived on the property for the past 17 years, said the announcement has caused a “rift” between band and non-band residents.

Sturko said police are aware of the ongoing issues on the reserve.

“We work with the First Nation to monitor the situation and now we’re, of course, investigating the fire,” Sturko said.

The $10-million water and sewer project – during which more than two kilometres of pipe is to be laid between Highway 99 and the Little Campbell River – got underway in March.

SFN Chief Harley Chappell told PAN in April that the goal is to have a longstanding boil-water advisory lifted.

“By no means is this anything personal,” Chappell said at the time. “This is to… move us into a new era.”

He confirmed 36 homes on the three lots are affected, and residents who can’t or choose not to pay have until June 15 to return the property to its natural state and leave.

Police encourage anyone with information regarding either fire to contact them at 604-599-0502, or to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or solvecrime.ca

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