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Arson in Nakusp: Rash of fires compounding illegal dumping problem

Nakusp Fire Chief Terry Warren inspects the site of a case of suspected arson and illegal dumping on Highway 6 near Nakusp.  - J. Louise Larson/Arrow Lakes News
Nakusp Fire Chief Terry Warren inspects the site of a case of suspected arson and illegal dumping on Highway 6 near Nakusp.
— image credit: J. Louise Larson/Arrow Lakes News

Someone is setting fires around Nakusp. On purpose.

Fire Chief Terry Warren said Monday multiple fires have been set downtown and in rural areas, and that more than one arsonist may be at work.

“On April 24, we got called to a wildfire. There was lots of garbage of all different sorts, locals had been dumping garbage there. We got called out for the fire,” Warren said.

Nakusp Volunteer Fire Department volunteers battled the blaze that evening and hotspots the next day.

Warren asked wildfire experts from the Ministry of Forests to help keep an eye on the site off Highway 6, not far from Nakusp Hot Springs.

More garbage was dumped at the site after the fire.

Viewed Monday, the site was a charred mess of garbage and wood.

“All of this is people cleaning up their property – it’s a helluva fire hazard,” Warren said.

The firefighters had to move in and out of the fire because of the intensity of the blaze.

“There were tons of toxic fumes from oils, tar paper, batteries,” he said.

Prior to the firefighters’ arrival, the blaze was working its wawy to the nearby rifle range, he said.

“See that dry bracken? It’s just like crumpled up newspaper, it’s dryer than heck, and that’s what the fire was moving through,” Warren said, pointing to tinder-dry foliage. “It’s just lucky one of our ex-volunteers spotted it and came and told us.”

As the summer approaches, concerns about wildfires will heighten, he said.

“We are in one of the higher spots for wildfires in the area,” he said, recalling the firestorms of 2003, when help was sought from firefighters from as far away as Abbotsford and Langley to quell fires sparked by lightening and dry heat.

On Friday, another illegal dumping spot a mile down the road was set on fire, and once again put out by volunteer firefighters.

Then, downtown, a bulletin board was lit on fire next to the general store, Warren said.

The call came in around 1:20 a.m. from an apartment dweller who lived behind Broadway between the alley and the lake, and was awakened by the smell of smoke.

With the historic wood frame buildings in Nakusp’s quaint downtown area, a fire could cause a great deal of property damage, Warren said, pointing to where what’s left of a community bulletin board lay crumpled in the alley.

“There’s a chance that if one of these old worn buildings catches on fire, we may lose the whole block,” he said.

Warren said it’s possible the arsonist or arsonists are unaware of the hazards they are posing to the community and surrounding areas.

“Maybe they just don’t know,” he said.

Unfortunately, rural dumping is a problem throughout the Kootenays. Area residents cleaning up their yards and unwilling to pay to use the dump or to wait for dump days may help themselves to back roads. Warren said he has observed backroads where garbage is just dumped in the middle of the road, blocking usage.

As for dumping, Warren is hoping to see a regional approach emerge.

“I think it’s something that should be brought forward as a Kootenay effort,” he said.

In the meantime, the fire chief would like to see area residents vigilant against the threats of arson and wildfire as well as illegal dumping.

“I think it’s important to get that message out there. If you see something suspicious or you see smoke, report it right away. Don’t just think it’s somebody setting a campfire,” he said.

The rash of arson activity is very unusual for Nakusp, Warren said.

“We’ve never had the dumping areas list – a month down the road, it could get away and we’d have a major forest fire coming at us,” he said.

 

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