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Starting point of fire linked to Sidney arson case may never be found

Sidney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen said it was fortunate building was unoccupied
Firefighters from all three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula responded to a fire Tuesday morning in downtown Sidney on Third Street. Police had earlier arrested a man during what police called an “interrupted arson.” (Sidney Volunteer Fire Department/Twitter)

Sidney Fire Department chief Brett Mikkelsen said investigators are still trying to determine the initial starting point of a fire at the core of criminal investigation involving arson.

“But we can say that there were numerous locations where it is evident that fires had been lit,” he said. “I don’t know if we can ever ascertain which one started before the other.”

He made these comments after Sidney/North Saanich RCMP officers had arrested a man charged with arson following a Tuesday (Dec. 27) fire in the 9700-block of Third Street after receiving a report of a break-and-enter to an unfinished building near the Beacon Inn.

“There was smoke evidence on the first floor, but we found evidence of spot-fires primarily in the stairwells and on the third and fourth floors,” said Mikkelsen. “When the sprinkler system activated, it created a lot of steam and white smoke and I’m sure that was discharged down the elevator shaft and that was likely what the first arriving RCMP officer saw (while responding to reports of a break-and-enter).”

After arriving from Sidney’s Community Safety Building and entering the building, crews found what he called “various spot-fires or areas where what we believe to be accelerant had been placed.” He added that the sprinkler system suppressed those fires.

After having checked building and turned off the sprinkler system, crews then assisted RCMP with its investigation and remained on scene until turning over the building, said Mikkelsen.

“It was very close to occupied, but not yet occupied, that was fortunate from our perspective.”

For one, it meant that no residents had to leave the building. It also meant that the fire could not have burnt through personal items, or as Mikkelsen called fuel load. “It almost created an ideal environment for the sprinkles to be effective,” he said.

Mikkelsen estimated the entirety of the building suffered water-damage.

“It wasn’t in every single suite, but I would definitely say there is water damage on all four floors,” he said.

RELATED: Sidney/North Saanich RCMP interrupt arson in downtown Sidney

The building stood close to the Beacon Inn with no real separation.

“Because of that, the code requires that the walls on both sides of that new building had be masonry or non-combustible,” said Mikkelsen. “But still, if that fire had managed to surpass or outpace the abilities of the sprinklers to suppress and if it had gained a hold there, the likelihood of radiant heat or an extension to an immediately adjacent building is obviously a big concern for us.”

Mikkelsen said this one of the reasons why Sidney firefighters had introduced 24-hour-staffing, so they could respond quickly in the face of the town’s growing density.

Mikkelsen said the Beacon Inn did not suffer any damage.

As for the 24-hour-staffing system, Mikkelsen said it has worked extremely well after the department had trialed it.

“It came as a result of COVID and out of some B.C. Building Code requirements to facilitate buildings being constructed very close together.”

For the department to meet response time requirements under the building code, 24-hour-staffing became necessary, he said.

“It has been a huge success,” he said. “It’s all about provision of service and fire doesn’t wait. So the quicker we can get there, the more times we are going to have a successful outcome. It has paid for itself countless already.”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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