Clean-up of Park Ave. fire underway last week.

Arson likely cause of fires

Deputy fire chief says motive is elusive in double fire Aug. 16 in downtown Terrace that destroyed two buildings

Local officials believe two near-simultaneous blazes were deliberately set on the evening of Aug. 16, which destroyed two abandoned buildings known to be used by homeless people.

“On the one of them [an abandoned bunkhouse and storage facility] I can say for sure it was arson, because there was no power, there were no services, there was no anything,” said deputy Terrace fire chief Dave Jephson last week.

“So nobody was supposed to be in there; it was supposed to be locked up. Based on those two things, that’s enough right there to say somebody set that one,” he said

That building, located at 3111 Atwood, and close to the CN tracks, used to be owned by the rail company but is now owned by the Best Western Terrace Inn which is located beside the now leveled site.

The other building  was located at 4727 Park Avenue and was used for storage by owner Lloyd Wittkowski. He hired equipment last week to remove the rubble which included lineoleum flooring and other material from a business he used to run.

Neither the RCMP nor the fire department believe there was anyone in either building.

“We did not find any sign of people or evidence of people but it is still an active investigation,” said Jephson.

“During the clean-up the RCMP were there monitoring on and off, same as the fire department. None of that showed signs of people there.”

And as of late last week, Terrace RCMP Constable Angela Rabut said the investigations have concluded and no causes for the fires were determined.

Site clean-up at both locations is to be finished today with costs for each undertaken by their respective owners.

Jephson said that any possible motivation to start the fires deliberately can’t be determined.

“Nothing, there is no financial gain, it would be transients or trespassers that either by accident started it, or somebody maliciously and purposely started it. Either way, that’s arson,” he said.

Firefighters responded first at approximately 10 p.m. to the fire at Park Ave. and again barely an hour later to the former CN building blaze.

In both cases, safety considerations kept firefighters from entering the buildings to see if anyone was inside.

“Both buildings were derelict, both buildings were a hazard to us; at no point in time were our crews going to enter those buildings,” said Jephson.

The city has received nine complaints about the Park Ave. residence since 2009, according to city official Alisa Thompson, but none in recent years about the old CN building.

That building had already been half-destroyed by a fire which took hold there in the early afternoon of June 20.

Ksan Society housing director Elaine McGillivary said it would not be unusual for homeless people to sleep in abandoned buildings.

Some keep away from conventional shelters because of alcohol or drugs, or for social or psychological reasons, she said.

As well, the Ksan shelter on Hall St. typically turns away three or four people each night because they are full, said McGillivary.

The Park Ave. location had been owned by two church congregations decades back and, at one time, the building housed a funeral home.