Furness fire arson – police

Published in the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper | July 31, 2002 | Circulation: 4,200

Evidence found at the scene of a Furness Road house fire last Thursday shows the blaze was definitely arson, police said.

Local RCMP have launched a criminal investigation into the fire, which started before 6 a.m. on July 25, and have physical evidence linked to the incident.

They could not, however, disclose the cause of the fire, nor what evidence they obtained.

“The fires were intentionally set, so obviously there’s a criminal investigation,” said RCMP Sgt. Mike Giles.

“When we say deliberately set, our rationale and reasons are that it was evident to the fire department first thing and to us upon attending.”

At 5:40 a.m., a fire started in the crawl space of the Furness Road house and burned a hole right through the floor of the room above, which the house’s owner called “the playroom.” Coughing from the smoke, she fled to a neighbour’s home screaming for help, said the neighbor.

Both women wished to remain anonymous.

“I thought someone was trying to kill her or something,” recalls the neighbor.  “She was terrified.

“There was smoke coming out of the house and the woods.”

Firefighters raced to the scene with two pumper trucks, three tankers and support vehicles.

The house’s owner was taken by ambulance to hospital, where she was treated for light smoke inhalation.

Most of the fire was extinguished from outside the building, but two firefighters in full gear then entered the house to ensure no hot spots remained.

Although the fire was doused within minutes, causing minimal damage, a larger brush fire had started in the forest and was burning in a 20-by-20 metre area to the west of the house.

It took firefighters more than an hour and 4,000 gallons of water to snuff out that fire, and another hour to soak down the ground.

The fact that two fires started simultaneously was the first sign that something was amiss, Sgt. Giles said.

“It doesn’t take a very experienced firefighter to know that an electrical fire starts in one place,” he said. “As soon as you have multiple start points to a fire, the suspicion is heightened.”

Once the fires were out, police wrapped the house in yellow “Do Not Cross” tape.

At 9 a.m., the RCMP brought in Corporal Curtis Horton from Victoria, with his police dog Ronin, who searched the field surrounding the property for clues.

Within an hour, an investigator arrived by boat from the fire commissioner’s office in Victoria to scrutinize the crime scene.

According to deputy fire chief Dan Akerman, investigators found direct evidence at the scene of the fire. They also determined with certainty the cause of the blaze, but said it had to remain under wraps.

“We do know what the cause was,” Akerman said. “But until the investigation is complete we can’t tell you. It would hamper the investigation.”

The maliciously set blaze, however, also brought out offers of help from Furness Road neighbours.

The neighbor woken up by the house owner made large batches of coffee for the firefighters as they waited for investigators to arrive.

Gulf Islands Brewery co-owner Bob Ellison, who lives at the end of the road, saw smoke and asked the fire department if they needed any of his water to tackle the blaze. They told him things were under control.

Sgt. Giles said he did not know how long the criminal investigation would take.

“Pretty much all we can say is that no one has been arrested,” he said. “It could be a week, or it could be a year.

“I don’t have a crystal ball. Suffice it to say that we’re confident.”

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