The Port Alberni Fire Department has released a new video of a fire that damaged part of the former Somass Sawmill over the weekend.
It shows what firefighters saw when they arrived at the mill Saturday evening when a fire broke out in the northwest corner of the main building.
Because of the mill’s size, dozens of firefighters were automatically called in, including those off-shift and from the neighbouring fire departments of Beaver Creek, Cherry Creek and Sproat Lake.
It took several hours to put out.
“The crews had to work hard and did a good job in preventing it from spreading to the rest of the structure, but what we arrived to on scene was certainly a significant fire,” said Chief Mike Owens of the Port Alberni Fire Department.
Since then, the focus has turned to the cause. The fire department said Sunday it believes the fire is suspicious.
“There’s no power to the building. The contractors that were on site weren’t working in that area the day prior, and so just through a process of elimination, we’ve determined it to be suspicious to the point of involving the RCMP,” said Owens.
Port Alberni RCMP are saying Monday they believe there was criminal intent. They’re asking anyone with information to contact them.
The mill hasn’t been in operation since early 2017. Western Forest Products sold the 20-hectare Somass mill site and adjacent properties to the City of Port Alberni in 2021 for $5.3 million.
The city has been deconstructing the mill and selling off equipment with an eye on future development for the waterfront property.
“I’m one of those people who don’t like the idea of the city having it because this is an industrial site … What’s in the soil is going to take millions to clean up, and the idea to turn it into a public area is a good idea but just the cost behind it,” said Matthew Rousseau, a Port Alberni resident.
Rousseau came to the mill site Monday to see if he could see any of the fire damage. He heard about it on social media.
“Not surprised. I thought it could be homeless-related, but at the same time, I was just curious as to what was going on,” said Rousseau.
The fire department says it’s unsure if any equipment worthy of being sold was damaged. The city said it wouldn’t answer any questions until the fire investigation is done.