A 37-year-old man is facing multiple charges in relation to the Friday afternoon fire at the downtown Salmon Arm 7-Eleven.
Kenneth Robert Laforge is facing charges of arson damaging property, arson in relation to inhabited property, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, mischief to property and mischief to property over $5,000.
Laforge was arrested at the scene of the blaze where a vehicle had been driven into the front of the convenience store on Highway 1.
“Upon police arrival it appeared as if the suspect, the driver of the vehicle, allegedly poured gasoline inside the store and lit the store on fire,” said Salmon Arm RCMP Staff Sgt. Scott West in a Monday, Aug. 27 release. “The store became fully engulfed with fire.”
At 1:50 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24, Salmon Arm firefighters were initially dispatched to a vehicle fire at the 7-Eleven. Fire Chief Brad Shirley said this was immediately upgraded to a structure fire. Two halls responded with two engines, an aerial ladder, a tender and a rescue truck, along with 21 firefighters.
The first engine arrived within minutes, and crews moved quickly to contain and knock down the blaze, which had spread from the car up into the overhang, and through the overhang across the front of the building. Adding to the challenge was a stack propane tanks beneath the left side of the overhang.
“Certainly, given what’s assumed to have been gasoline used in that fire, obviously that accelerates a fire very quickly so that obviously poses a challenge to us,” said Shirley, who commended 7-Eleven staff for ensuring everyone inside was quickly and safely evacuated.
As a further safety precaution, neighbouring businesses were also evacuated.
Shirley said firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the exterior of the building, though there was significant water damage inside.
As firefighters pressed their attack, witnesses reported seeing a person drive a silver sedan into the front of the 7-Eleven, pour gasoline on the vehicle and lighting it on fire.
Area resident Reta Moerike was across the highway at Fletcher Park just before 2 p.m. Friday when she and her spouse heard a loud bang.
“It might have been the guy driving into the store – he would have hit the newsstand, not the till,” she surmises.
Another man in the park saw the billowing smoke and immediately recognized it as a vehicle fire and ran towards the store.
Moerike could see from across the street that a car had driven into the store’s front window.
“The door (of the car) was open so we knew the person was out.”
She estimates fire trucks were on scene within two to three minutes.
“Things started blowing up – we thought, ‘what about propane tanks?’ But it was smaller stuff, there would be a pop and then a puff of smoke. Then the awning caught fire, and the whole front of the store went up rapidly. That happened just as the trucks came on scene.”
She says she was very impressed by the way the emergency crews handled the incident.
“Within a matter of three or four minutes, all of the first responders had all traffic mobilized, all the traffic coming down the hill was being rerouted. It was really efficient, quite an amazing thing to watch how the whole thing was managed. It was really impressive. Not only the fire, but the whole scene.”
Shirley commended the RCMP for closing off one lane of the highway to allow the fire department to better access the fire. Firefighters also helped police keep the large crowd that had gathered at a safe distance.
West said the police continue to investigate.