Investigators think the string of fires at Mission’s Heritage Park over the summer were set deliberately, according to the Mission Fire Rescue Service’s (MFRS) seasonal wildfire report to council.
The fires started to occur mere days after the deadly record-setting heatwave destroyed the village of Lytton, and left hundreds in the province dead.
From July 4 to Aug. 5, a total of nine fires occurred in the woods surrounding Heritage Park. Only one fire, at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 4, is listed as a confirmed attempted arson, but the frequency and lack of other probable causes lends to the others being a “malicious act,” the report says.
These incidents are still under investigation by the Mission RCMP’s Serious Crime Unit, who confirmed they are treating all fires as suspicious.
The fires were all set well back from any visible point, usually in the brush and trail system away from CCTV footage, said Cpl. Jason Raaflaub, media officer with the Mission RCMP.
He said a number of objects, such as lighters, were found at several of the fire scenes, but nothing that could help ID a suspect.
“We entitled all of these files as arson, but ‘suspicious fires’ would be more applicable,” Raaflaub said. “They all read about the same – fires of the same size, same rough area and one right after another.”
Confirming RCMP’s suspicions was challenged by the limited capacity of the MFRS. Members met with the superintendent of BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), a wildfire origin-and-cause specialist, and the RCMP on Aug. 24 to discuss how the service can better preserve the wildfire scenes for investigators in the future.
Two small fires at the end of the season, on Aug. 27 and Sept. 7, were investigated by the BCWS enforcement team after the scene was better preserved by MFRS.
The seasonal report includes a daily fire-danger rating for Mission throughout the summer. In July, 18 days had a high-danger rating, and 10 had an extreme-danger rating; in August, six days had a high-danger rating, and six days had an extreme-danger rating.
There were a total of 1,609 fires in B.C. this wildfire season, causing 86 evacuation alerts and 70 evacuation orders affecting over 22,000 homes, according to the report.
It says a total of 500,000 hectares burned, and well over 3,000 firefighters were called to battle the wildfires.
Timeline of the
Heritage Park fires:
July 4 – Small fire off trail.
July 4 – Attempted arson of the Grotto.
July 16 – Large fire on the Hail Mary Trail.
July 19 – Small fire off trail.
July 24 – Small fire on Glen’s Loop Trail.
July 25 – Fire hazard stump stacked with kindling.
Aug. 2 – Small bush fire near pond.
Aug. 3 – The most significant incident occurred resulting in a short-term evacuation of Tooley Place. MFRS crews on the ground worked with a BCWS helicopter to control the 0.8-hectare fire. The Mission Emergency Operations Center was activated.
Aug. 5 – Second fire, approximately 0.5-hectares behind Tooley Place.
Aug. 24 – Small fire in the park’s east end by Jasper Avenue.
Sept. 7 – Small fire behind Heritage Park Centre.