A longstanding community centre in Nanaimo suffered significant damage in a fire that scorched the outside of the building and caused significant smoke damage inside.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews were called to the 1400 block of Wingrove Street just after 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 17, and found a fire in the alcove at the front of the Departure Bay Activity Centre.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue assistant chief of operations Stu Kenning said there was a natural gas rupture fuelling the flames, but said it appeared the fire started in another part of the structure and spread there.
“When a natural gas line ruptures like that and catches fire, we basically just hold the fire in place, protect the rest of the building … and we had to get Fortis to come in and shut the gas off in a different location,” said Kenning.
Firefighters did not see anyone around the scene of the fire. Nanaimo RCMP are investigating the fire, which has been deemed suspicious.
According to an RCMP press release, the building was unoccupied at the time of the fire. Police say the gymnasium portion of the building sustained significant fire damage. An adjacent parking bay, where the Nanaimo Salvation Army’s emergency food truck is parked, suffered smoke damage.
“You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Nanaimo area who hasn’t attended an event or activity at this hall. It’s a landmark building which as served the citizens of Nanaimo well for over 60 years,” said reserve Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, in the release.
The City of Nanaimo said in a press release that the building will be assessed to determine the extent of the damage. User groups will be contacted and updated and the city said where possible, programs will be relocated.
“It’s unfortunate this well-used community centre succumbed to fire this morning,” said Mayor Leonard Krog in the release. “Be assured that where possible, recreation participants will be accommodated elsewhere.”
Investigators are asking anyone who saw a person or vehicle in the area between 5 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. or anyone with security camera or dash cam video to call the Nanaimo RCMP non-emergency line at 250-754-2345 and quote file No. 2022-8997.