Duncan business owner voices concerns after suspicious hedge fire spreads to care facility

Duncan business owner voices concerns after suspicious hedge fire spreads to care facility
Photo: Travis Berthiaume
A security camera captures footage of a hedge fire that spread to a long-term care facility in Duncan. The fire, which happened behind the Dairy Queen restaurant in the 300-block of Trans-Canada Highway, has been deemed suspicious and a police investigation is underway.

A Duncan business owner says he’s grateful no one was injured after a suspicious fire spread to the long-term care facility behind his restaurant.

Travis Berthiaume owns the Dairy Queen at 328 Trans-Canada Highway in Duncan and says security cameras captured the moments a man set fire to the cedar hedges behind his restaurant, where flames spread to Sunridge Place Seniors Community.

The incident happened around 4:30 a.m. Saturday, according to Berthiaume, who says people with dementia reside in the wing of the building damaged in the blaze.

“The flames looked like they were starting to go into the rafters. The Duncan Fire Department got there right on time and is responsible for saving the lives of many people at Sunridge, for sure,” Berthiaume told CHEK News.

“The heat blew out one of the windows, damaged all the soffits, some of the siding, melted their camera,” he said. “Zero damage to my building. Just cosmetic stuff. Hedges, replacing the fence, the garbage enclosure. All very cosmetic.”

Police investigation underway

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP say Mounties and crews from Duncan Fire responded to the fire, now deemed suspicious, around 5 a.m. Police say it spread quickly, but firefighters were able to douse the flames.

“The initial investigation indicates this was a suspicious occurrence,” said North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP Staff Sgt. Ken Beard in a news release Sunday.

Security footage from the DQ shows the fire at its peak and the aftermath, as Berthiaume recalls his late-night cleaners calling 911.

“Luckily, at the same time, one of the workers in Sunridge Centre … saw the first flames while they were working in one of the resident’s rooms, so they were able to call 911 as well,” the restaurant owner said. “I think there were about nine calls to 911 pretty much as soon as it started, oddly enough at that time of day.”

But it wasn’t the suspected arsonists’ first attempt to start a fire that night. According to Berthiaume, the man kept targeting the DQ property.

“At about 1 a.m., this guy crossed over our fence from the Chevron next door and was trying to start fires all around,” he said. “We have hedging out front, so he was trying to light all that on fire. He was just causing chaos in the parking lot, and at 4:30 he thought he would cause the most chaos when he lit all the cedar hedges on fire.

“It went up pretty quickly.”

In a statement, Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said the city is in close contact with the RCMP and will provide updates as information becomes available.

“Our hearts go out to the people impacted by the fire, and fear caused when the alarms sounded early in the morning. We are thankful for the dedication and courage of our firefighters and first responders who attended and extinguished the flames,” said Staples.

“A lot to handle”

While the Duncan DQ building itself wasn’t damaged by fire, Berthiaume says his business isn’t immune to disturbances. Graffiti and open drug use in the parking lot are common problems he and his staff deal with, and he’s hoping all levels of government will step up and do more.

“It’s non-stop and they never have any answers,” he said. “It’s always about the trauma these people face and mental illness. But it doesn’t give them an excuse for this behaviour. It’s not fair to the business owners, it’s not fair to the community. We need to be able to feel safe and secure.

“It’s a lot to handle.”

Berthiaume says he’s happy no one was hurt or displaced from their home.

“It was so much closer to Sunridge, and you’re kicking people out of their homes, threatening their lives. That’s what made me the most sick and angry. When you’re threatening the lives of that many people, it’s a different story.”

Anyone with information or video footage of suspicious activity in or around the 300-block of Trans-Canada Highway is asked to call the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP at 250-548-5522.

“I encourage anyone who may have witnessed this incident or has information about the fire to speak to investigators immediately,” added Staff Sgt. Beard.

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Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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