Two suspects have been identified and arrested after they were caught on security footage near the world’s largest burl with a yellow jerry can, just before it caught fire.
The Port McNeill Fire Department posted on Facebook that the world’s largest burl caught fire Thursday night.
The burl, or a hard woody outgrowth on a tree, was discovered in 2005 and is estimated to weigh nearly 30 tonnes, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Fire Chief Dean Tait told CHEK News crews were called to the scene at about 1:22 a.m. for a structure fire on the 1400 block of Broughton Boulevard.
He said when they arrived, the burl was totally engulfed in flames and the structure around it was destroyed.
“You can tell it’s been burning for quite a few hours by the size of the timbers and stuff that were burning,” Tait explained.
He said the fire was burning inside the burl, making it hard to put out. Western Forest Products came in and moved the burel into the middle of the parking lot so firefighters could have better access.
Some of the surrounding bushes also got singed in the fire, but Tait said it didn’t catch and spread.
“There is still a lot of green around, but there’s not much so we got lucky,” he added.
Port McNeill RCMP released pictures of two suspects around noon, and then later in the day updated saying they had been identified, though they have not released names or ages of the suspects.
Police say the fire started around 1:29 a.m. and that the protective structure built around the burl was completely destroyed.
CCTV from the area shows two suspects carrying what looks to be a yellow jerry can around 11:19 p.m. in the area near the burl.
“While still early in the investigation, this fire appears to have been a deliberate act with the apparent intent to destroy the town’s prized point of interest,” said Sgt. Curtis Davis, detachment commander for the Port McNeill RCMP. “We are releasing still images from the CCTV in hopes that someone will recognize and report the two suspects.”
The town’s former mayor, Gaby Wickstrom, says the burl is a “natural oddity” that draws visitors to the community.
This act of vandalism is heart breaking. I was the chamber president when we organized volunteers & brought the burl into Port McNeill. To some it might be a silly piece of wood, but others know this natural oddity draws visitors to our community. Such a shame.
Leena Prest photo pic.twitter.com/7n9d0KU4Pp
— Gaby Wickstrom (@GabyWickstrom) May 18, 2023
In the early 2000s, Wickstrom was the president of Port McNeill Chamber of Commerce when the burl was brought into town from Coal Harbour.
She said since then it has brought in tourists from all over.
“I was shocked to see how many people actually routinely pull into this every single day,” Wickstrom said. “It definitely draws visitors for sure.”
This attraction has also become a part of the community over the years.
Port McNeill councillor Shelley Downey said the town is very proud of it’s forestry industry and history, making this fire hard for the residents to see.
“The community is appropriately heartbroken, upset, disappointed, absolutely devastated by this senseless act,” Downey said.
She told CHEK News that this isn’t the end of Port McNeill’s world record title.
“About one kilometre up the road we have, what was in its day, the largest burl until this one was found,” Downey said.
That 20 tonne burl is located adjacent to Western Forest Products properties off of Highway 19.
She said at this point the town is unsure if that burl will be moved into town, left at its original site, or if the burnt one can be saved.
Anyone with any information about this fire is asked to contact the Port McNeill RCMP at 250-956-4441.