RCMP and Gabriola Fire say home and vehicle fires under investigation for arson

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, June 2 2021

Both the Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department and Gabriola RCMP are investigating the two suspicious fires which occurred between 10pm on Saturday, May 29 and 1:45am on Sunday, May 30. 

Merged Photo by Sarah Holmes, Gabriola Sounder

The fires are being investigated as arsons and occurred in the 700 block of Berry Point Road. A shed, and a van, were set on fire on two different non-neighbouring properties. The shed fire spread to the principal resident, and as a result, the home and all its contents were destroyed. Police are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying those involved or any information that may assist in the investigation. Should anyone have been travelling in the area and have digital video recordings (such as dash cam footage) or observed anything suspicious, please contact Gabriola RCMP at 250-247-8333. Persons who wish to remain anonymous can call Crimestoppers and leave a tip at 1-800-222-8477.

Photo by Sarah Holmes, Gabriola Sounder

Cpl. Jordan Mullen, Detachment Commander for Gabriola RCMP said, “RCMP are following up on all currently available information. While this is being treated as a single incident, RCMP would encourage islanders to be aware of and report any strange happenings in and around their properties.”

Gabriola Fire Chief Will Sprogis said the fires did not share an ignition source - they were definitely not linked by one or the other being started and causing the other.

Firefighters were called out at 1:40am for a shed on fire - reported on the property where the home was lost.

Sprogis said that fire started in a shed, but moved into the home, destroying the home, outbuildings, and the property owner’s vehicle. “It’s a total loss for the property.”

Sprogis credited his fire crews with saving the neighbour’s home - as one of the outbuildings on fire was within 50 feet of the neighbouring home.

“They stopped the fire from spreading to that house, and into the forest.”

He said when crews arrived on scene, the trees on the roadside of the home were on fire. Video posted to social media shows sparks flying well above the treeline.

The van fire a few properties away totally consumed the camper van and the shelter it was stored under, but firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to any other part of the property. Fire Crews have been granted access to use the new road which connects Church Street to Spruce Ave. Sprogis said with the use of that road, crews were on scene four to five minutes faster than if they had gone around Taylor Bay Road.

Gabriola RCMP and BC Emergency Health Services ambulance were also on scene. There were no injuries to any of the firefighters or residents of the area.

The home which was destroyed belonged to Sandra Hill. Her daughter Kristy Smith was the fourth generation of the family to live in the home.

On Monday, Kristy said the loss of the home is , “heartbreaking. The initial shock and adrenaline is wearing off. Right now it’s just sad.”

She said her mom Sandra grew up in the home, as did Kristy and her siblings.

“It’s hard to look at it now.”

The part she is grateful for is Sandra was not hurt in the fire.

“It was very scary for my mom, to open her bedroom curtains and see the flames [from the shed]. The fire wasn’t started in her house. I’m thankful she got out with the clothes on her back.

“We are so grateful for the firefighters, the RCMP, and the paramedics. I was back and forth so many times that night, checking on the firefighters. It was incredible seeing the work they put in. So grateful. So thankful.”

Asked if Sandra needed help, Kristy said, “We are going to go get some essentials for her. Right now, we’re so very blessed that we’re here and close, we can take care of my mom. We’ve got things for her.”

As news spread on Sunday of what had happened, islanders had started to contact the family to offer help.

Kristy said, “I wasn’t shocked by the outpouring of the community. I grew up here. I know people will rally around her.

 “That’s why I love Gabriola so much. It’s amazing, the kindness and generosity we’ve been shown in 24 hours. 

“Right now, mom is safe, she’s comfortable.”

Sandra provided a statement to the Sounder on Monday afternoon saying, “on behalf of my family, I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to the GVFD, RCMP, and Paramedics for their attention to the tragic event of the loss of my home. 

“As well, to our entire Gabriola Community for the overwhelming love and concern they have expressed to us. 

“It is incomprehensible that someone would deliberately set fire to our neighbours van and to my property, resulting in total loss. I assume your intention was not to destroy my home, and I forgive you.

“I ask that you turn yourself in to the authorities, with the hope that you can get the help you need for your loss of judgement. 

“There is a verse that says, “God can bring Beauty from Ashes” and my strong Faith does not disappoint.”

A GoFundMe account for people to donate to Sandra has been set up, and can be accessed through this link: https://gofund.me/fc8520b4

As of press time, $14,048 had been raised of the $20,000 goal.