White Rock arson probe spreads

Investigation into May 15 fire in hands of RCMP as nearly 100 evacuees await word on fate of building.

White Rock police investigating last month’s fire in Five Corners are “knee-deep” in efforts to identify and hold to account those behind the massive blaze.

“The majority of our resources is (focused on) it,” Const. Chantal Sears said Monday. “It’s a top priority, for sure.”

Fire officials turned the file over to police last week, after investigation determined the early-morning May 15 fire that destroyed an under-construction project and forced evacuation of the 60-unit Ocean Ridge complex had been deliberately set.

Sears didn’t know what evidence was located at the scene, but said investigators are reviewing surveillance video that reportedly captured people in the area at the time.

In addition, officers are continuing to canvass neighbouring residents and businesses for information that could lead to an arrest.

“The investigation’s moving ahead,” she said.

Fire Chief Phil Lemire said he could not comment on what led to the arson determination, citing the police investigation.

At city council Monday, Lemire presented a report outlining the event he described as “the largest fire incident in the city’s history.”

Lemire detailed the timeline of events that morning, noting the first 911 call came in at 5:10 a.m., with off-duty and auxiliary staff called in just two minutes later. Lemire said he arrived on scene at 5:21, which is when the evacuation of the Ocean Ridge complex began. Calls for assistance to Surrey Fire Service were made at 5:26 a.m., according to his report, with neighbouring trucks arriving at 5:37 a.m.

City staff was called at 6 a.m. to set up a reception centre at Centennial Arena, which Lemire said was up and running within a half-hour.

As crews gained control of the fire into the afternoon, Lemire said, Surrey Fire Service units were released, with the final Surrey truck leaving at 10:15 p.m.

White Rock crews remained on scene through the night and all day Monday for what Lemire said totalled a “43-hour operational period.”

The chief said the help from Surrey crews – a provision in place under the Lower Mainland Mutual Aid Agreement – was “common practice” in a large-scale incident, noting White Rock had provided similar assistance to Surrey in the past.

City manager Dan Bottrill told PAN prior to the meeting that Surrey Fire Services would bill White Rock Fire Department for the assistance under the aid agreement. He did not know the estimated cost incurred that day.

Bottrill confirmed the City of Surrey would bill White Rock approximately $2,000 for the cost of water supplied after White Rock’s reservoirs were depleted.

Council commended the work of fire crews and city staff – as well as the “overwhelming” community support for those whose homes were lost in the blaze.

One of the 95 residents left homeless (officials previously stated more than 100 were evacuated) told PAN that last week’s news that the fire was intentionally set came as no surprise.

“(We) knew that from the beginning,” Sandi Dick said Monday, referring to the conclusion she and her husband reached the morning of the fire.

Dick had previously said the couple investigated a “pop pop and the smell of plastic” around 5 a.m. What she saw reminded her of a candle’s glow; it quickly evolved into a raging fire.

Monday, she said the arson confirmation is angering.

“A stupid prank or whatever it was has set… people’s lives into a turmoil. This has put many, many in hardship,” Dick said.

The fate of the Ocean Ridge development – whether it will be rebuilt or repaired – has yet to be announced officially, however, Dick said she and “everybody that I’ve talked to” has been hearing that a repair is likely.

An official with Barclay Restorations said he would not speak publicly but that more would be known in a couple of weeks.

Lemire said residents of the first three floors were allowed back into their suites early last week to start collecting some of their belongings.

Dick said it was “creepy” returning to her ground-floor unit, which suffered a lot of water damage. She and her husband could see ash paw prints that had been left by their cat, Cabo, who disappeared during the fire, but was found alive and well two days later in one of the unit’s closets.

Sunday, after finishing moving the majority of their own belongings out, the couple sat in their unit and had a glass of wine.

“It’s hard, you’re leaving your home,” Dick said.

Noting that a number of residents did not have insurance, Dick said many people do not realize the extent of the fire’s impact.

At the same time, the outpouring of support from the community has been “amazing.”

“There are good people out there,” she said.

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