Barn destroyed by fire at Nanaimo exhibition grounds

A barn at the Vancouver Island Exhibition’s grounds in Nanaimo burned to the ground early Thursday, badly damaging equipment and destroying irreplaceable items owned by the volunteer group that runs the complex.

“All of our equipment — two tractors, a flat-deck truck, two tow motors, tables, chairs, barbecues, you name it,” said VIEX vice-president Karen Streeter. “The city owns the property, but all of the barns, everything belong to VIEX.

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“We’re a non-profit with basically no money.”

Streeter said she was roused from bed about 4:30 a.m. and told what has happening. She said the barn and contents were insured, but the loss goes beyond financial.

“A lot of the decorations and props, those kinds of things,” Streeter said. “How do you put a value on that?”

She said VIEX has also had to deal with “constant” break-ins at the site, including two on the weekend and another two last week, even though there is nothing of value to steal. “It’s disheartening because it’s ongoing here,” said Streeter.

The structure was fully involved when fire crews arrived, said Timothy Doyle, deputy chief of fire operations for Nanaimo Fire Rescue. The barn was one of a number of barns and other buildings at the site.

Doyle said the cause of the fire is “likely suspicious” in nature, but it’s difficult to be certain because of the extensive damage. No one was hurt, he said.

The main focus each year for VIEX is a three-day gathering in August, said Streeter, who compared it with the Saanich Fair.

Despite the setbacks, VIEX is looking forward to marking the 125th year of the August event next year, she said.

“We want to make it a big celebration.”

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