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Probe into suspicious Sooke fires to be stepped up

Feb 11 2012

B.C.’s Office of the Fire Commissioner is poised to bolster the number of investigators probing a string of suspicious fires in Sooke.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Rob Owens contacted Sooke Fire Chief Steve Sorensen this week offering additional investigators to explore a rash of deliberately set fires in Sooke.

Since August, firefighters have responded to six purposely set fires, in which a range of items, from structures to trees, were burned.

There have been about 42 fires deemed suspicious, or the result of arson, over the past four years, Sorensen said Friday.

“At this point, if some more occur, I would probably start calling them in now just to provide another level of expertise and to look at it from another point of view,” Sorensen said.

The arson statistics do not include the latest suspicious blaze in a mobile home park on Sooke Road last Saturday. Kristie Smedley, 41, and her children, Merrick, 12, and Zack, eight, were left homeless by the fire, which started on the outside of the family’s single-wide mobile home. The family did not have insurance.

While at the park, investigators found another abandoned mobile home that had been torched, likely within the past month, Sorensen said. Fire investigators and the RCMP continue to look into both fires.

“We’re pretty confident it’s human caused,” Sorensen said. The difficulty is in determining whether it was accidental or on purpose, he said. The RCMP will meet with Sooke’s fire chief Monday. If last Saturday’s fire is determined to be deliberate, Sorensen said he will likely take up the deputy commissioner’s offer for additional investigators.

“We’re pretty sure the person lighting the bush fires is probably the same person, or group of persons, because they [the fires] are very similar,” Sorensen said. “But the structure fires are quite different in how they started and points of origin. It’s difficult to put all of this together, but we are trying our best.”

The problem for investigators is that while the number of fires increases, there is nothing to “connect the dots” with regard to the structure fires, Sorensen said. “That’s why we’re working with the police and our mapping people and the municipality, and putting all this data together to see if anything matches up.”

In the meantime, West Shore RCMP has requested information in relation to a string of suspicious highway roadside and trail fires last summer.

“They want to look at what we have and compare with what they have and see if it’s someone travelling through the communities and doing something that way,” Sorensen said. “It gives us some concern that a person or persons are setting fires, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying there’s a serial arsonist or anything.”

Most of the Sooke fires occurred within about one kilometre of the downtown core and were set after dark.

On Aug. 29 last year, a group of trees were set on fire close to Otter Point Road near the municipal hall. It was the fourth time that the trees had been set on fire within months, Sorensen said.

On Oct. 7, firefighters responded to a structure fire on Rhodonite Drive, but most of the building had burned to the ground. Investigators found six points of origin for the fire and found it had been deliberately set.

Sorensen urged the public to report any suspicious activity. “People may have had small fires, but didn’t report them because they didn’t cause any damage,” he said. “We would like to know about those because it could help us establish a pattern.”

Most of the fires appear to be set using available items in the area, such as cardboard or paper. Sorensen asked people to tidy their yards and be vigilant.

A trust fund for the Smedley family has been set up at Coast Capital Savings Credit Union in Sooke.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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RECENT BLAZES IN SOOKE

-- Feb. 4 Mobile home gutted in 6600 block of Sooke Road.

-- Jan. 7 TD Bank construction set on fire on Sooke Road.

-- Nov. 17 Large fifth-wheel trailer on Kaltasin Road set on fire.

-- Oct. 8 Vehicle fire on Whiffen Spit Road. It remains unclear as to whether the fire was deliberate.

-- Oct. 7 Structure fire on Rhodonite Drive. Investigators found six points of origin.

-- Aug. 29 Trees set on fire close to Otter Point Road near municipal hall. (The fourth time that group of trees was set on fire within months).

-- Aug. 24 Brush fire on Throup Road.

-- Aug. 20 Brush fire on Gatewood Trail.

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