Multiple downtown fires set Nanaimo residents on edge

Multiple downtown fires set Nanaimo residents on edge
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Tensions are high in an area of downtown Nanaimo after a series of fires Thursday morning.

All were put out before causing significant damage, but for those already concerned about social disorder in the city, it’s the last straw.

Victoria Crescent was blocked off in downtown Nanaimo Thursday as firefighters worked to put out a fire in one of the city’s heritage buildings.

The manager of the music store Sound Heritage called it in after arriving shortly before 10 a.m.

“When we got on scene it was mainly smoke, a little bit of flames,” said assistant Fire Chief Stu Kenning with Nanaimo Fire Rescue.

“[It was] difficult to access, to get into the basement. It’s more like a crawl space, so very difficult to access, and we actually had to cut a hole in it to maintain access,” said Kenning.

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Firefighters are pictured outside Sound Heritage in Nanaimo on Sept. 21, 2023.

While fire officials believe this fire was accidental, some are finding its proximity to two others set around the same time unnerving.

“This is the third fire that has been set, either deliberately or accidentally, in this half a block area of Victoria Crescent just this morning,” said Kevan Shaw, founding president of the Victoria Crescent Association.

One saw a person pour flammable liquid before lighting it shortly after 6 a.m. Firefighters put it out.

There was also a small fire lit by the CO-OP gas bar, less than a block away, captured on video surveillance, before 5 a.m. Damage there was also minimal.

“This is something we’ve been trying to warn all the governments about. The City of Nanaimo, the Regional District of Nanaimo, BC Transit, because a bus terminal is being put up in Shaw Lane and we’ve been warning and warning and warning that this area is already hard hit by social disorder,” said Shaw.

These fires come less than a week after a fire displaced people living in a Prideaux Street condo. That one started in a dumpster before spreading to the building.

Residents say they had trouble with drug users and homeless people setting fires and leaving garbage behind for months. The RCMP are now investigating.

While the fire at the record store appears to be human-caused, this time at least is doesn’t appear intentional.

While declining an on-camera interview, the stores manager says he doesn’t think someone was trying to set the store on fire as there are many easier and better ways to light one. He suspects someone was just making a poor attempt at discarding a cigarette.

But with several other suspicious fires in the city recently, any flame is bound to put those who live and work in the area on edge. The fire department says it’s fortunate the one at Sound Heritage was called in so quickly.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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