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Arson suspected in Pedro Gonzales fire
Police have taken over investigation of the devastating fire Monday at Pedro Gonzalez Fruit and Garden Ltd.
“After our investigation, we found it is suspicious enough in nature that we have turned it over to the RCMP,” said Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley Wednesday afternoon.
Assistant fire chief Rod Macfarlane, who initiated an investigation into the fire, said Tuesday that the speed with which the fire spread in the five minutes between dispatch and arrival on scene was unusual.
“Things didn’t go as expected,” he said, noting that what initially came in as a “commercial alarm” at 12:20 a.m. Sept. 9, was amended to a “commercial structure fire” within one minute and was a deep-seated fire by the time firefighters arrived. “Given the time frame, it’s very unusual. It’s rare something will move that quickly and do that much damage.”
The first indication of a fire was when heat detectors went off, alerting the monitoring company, which called dispatchers.
What triggered the change to commercial structure fire within a minute was a call from a passerby on the Trans-Canada Highway, something that was followed by multiple 911 calls.
Macfarlane says a duty chief was at Pedro’s within four minutes, saw a fire in the back and immediately called for additional resources.
Hall 3 was on scene with full equipment in less than six minutes and firefighters from the department’s three other halls arrived shortly after.
“We found a fire in the feed building and focused our attention on that because that’s where we saw flames on our arrival,” Macfarlane says, noting the fire spread quickly from the seed building at the back, through the main sales building, causing the roof to collapse.
“It was pretty spectacular at that point,” he says. “Within a short time, flames were rolling out of there.”
Firefighters were on scene until 6 a.m., extinguishing the fire and preventing it from getting into the west side of the main building. The collapsed roof made accessing hot spots difficult.
Grateful no one was injured in the blaze, Macfarlane says the building and contents suffered extensive loss.
“It (flames) all went through the roof structure so there was very little damage,” he says of items inside the store. “The sad thing is, as much as we could save, the resulting smoke and water damage makes the rest of the products unusable.”
Macfarlane says the fire department had been working with the insurance company to discover the source and the cause of the fire.
A special meeting was held Tuesday night to interview all firefighters who responded to the fire in order to determine what each one of them saw when they arrived at the blaze.
The RCMP, who were initially working with the Salmon Arm Fire Department, have now assumed control of the investigation.
“The police investigation is ongoing and updates will follow as the investigation develops,” said a press release from the Salmon Arm detachment.
The fruit stand has been owned by members of the Ruth Family for 38 years. There is no word yet on whether they plan to rebuild.