Sooke shopping centre fire likely set in recycling bin, says fire chief

An experiment using a match and a half-bin of recycled paper has convinced the Sooke fire chief as to how the suspicious fire that ravaged Evergreen shopping centre started on July 31.

Within 45 minutes of the staged test witnessed by two RCMP detectives Wednesday, one lit match with no accelerant generated extremely high temperatures on the remaining wall behind the Royal Bank where the fire is believed to have started in a similar wheeled bin, Chief Steve Sorensen said. The wall was 15 centimetres from the bin.

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Sorensen stopped short of using the word “arson” to describe the cause of the massive blaze at 6660 Sooke Rd., saying there was an outside chance it could have been a prank gone terribly wrong.

“We can confirm it wasn’t accidental,” he said.

“At three in the morning, who sits at the back of a bank and smokes and throws a cigarette in a recycle bin?”

Because the alarm was called in at 5:30 a.m., he estimated that the fire began between 3 and 4 a.m.

The alarm brought nearly 50 firefighters and seven pumper trucks to the scene, and nearly emptied the Helgeson reservoir. The fire destroyed or badly damaged the premises of several businesses, including a Royal Bank branch, Carole Cave’s Sooke Dance Studio, the Sooke News Mirror and Barton Insurance.

The centre’s owners, Partners REIT, might begin levelling the site by the end of this week, and have stated their intention to rebuild and perhaps add to the property.

“We’ve turned the building over to the owners and we’ll leave it in the hands of the RCMP to continue the investigation,” Sorensen said, adding they have surveillance footage to examine.

He called the fire damage “probably the biggest dollar-loss fire in my recollection.”

Sorensen is still trying to come up with a damage estimate, but said it will be in the millions of dollars.

The website of the Sooke News Mirror says the paper has relocated to Seaview Business Centre. Zcomp Systems Ltd., a software developer that was in the mall for 17 years, has moved to 108-1016 McCallum Rd. in Langford.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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