Port Alberni fire chief says hotel restaurant fire 'suspicious'

PORT ALBERNI -- Fire crews and the RCMP are treating a Saturday night fire at the old Tidebrook Hotel restaurant in Port Alberni as suspicious.

Only a charred frame of the building on the corner of Gertrude Street and Pemberton Road remains after an aggressive fire roared through the structure.

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Port Alberni fire Chief Tim Pley said fire officials were told the building was not secure before the fire and that the door had been forced open earlier on the weekend.

“There was no power or gas to the building, so it would have to be human-caused,” Pley said. “It is a vacant building that had been broken into, so there is reason to be suspicious.”

Pley said the fire department would join RCMP officers in an investigation on Monday. But he said it is unlikely they will find anything, given how extensively the building was burned.

“Given the extent of the damage, it is unlikely that we will find the smoking gun,” he said, apologizing for the unintended pun. “It is more likely the RCMP will get a lead using good old-fashioned police work.”

Pley said a damaged building burns faster. Even with 15 Port Alberni firefighters, six Sproat Lake Fire Department volunteers and five from the Beaver Creek detachment, there was little they could do but keep the fire contained and slowly put it out, Pley said.

He commended the firefighters on their work, saying it is often frustrating for them when they cannot get in to fight a fire.

RCMP investigators have started questioning witnesses and asking for tips from the public, Const. Tracey Corner said. She said they have interviewed initial witnesses who called in the fire, and will continue to look for information on the blaze.

Because the fire department was continuing to put out hot spots Sunday, she said the RCMP will send in investigators Monday, once the fire department has determined it is safe to do so.

Pley said the fire department received the call about 9 p.m. on Saturday. By that time, there was a fully involved fire at the well-known derelict building. When firefighters arrived on scene, they found the entire second floor consumed by flames.

“Being right under the roof, it was really difficult to fight,” the fire chief explained. “Since it has been vacant so long, we decided we wouldn’t go into the building, and so we took defensive control of the fire from outside.”

Pley said that meant it would take longer to extinguish the blaze, but it would be safer for the firefighters. When a building is vacant and is not secure, unknown hazards can develop that put the lives of anyone entering the building at risk, he explained.

“We’re not going to risk lives to fight this fire,” he said. “There was nothing to gain, since it was already too badly burned.”

Pley added that even if the building had been occupied, they likely would have made the same decision, given the state of the fire when they arrived.

Although the door was not secure, Pley said there was no indication that anyone was in the building at the time of the fire.

On Sunday morning, one fire truck remained on site as a crew extinguished hot spots, but the battle was over. Most of the crew left the scene at 1 a.m., but a few remained overnight to watch for flare-ups. They will remain on scene until they believe it is completely safe to leave.

In January, the hotel on the property also burned to the ground. Fire crews at the time determined it was human-caused.

Jack Purdy owns the property, which housed a number of restaurants before it closed in 2006.

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