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RCMP broaden arson hunt

Jessica Klinkenberg
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 27/06) - Yellowknife RCMP are wondering whether there is any connection between a rash of fires in recent months, including one that burned down a portion of Ecole St. Joseph last August.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Suspicious fires

Aug. 3 - A fire burns four portable classrooms and a mini-gym at Ecole St. Joseph. The fire started in a crawl space beneath one of the portables. RCMP and the Yellowknife Fire Department quickly determine the cause to be arson. Two weeks later, police announced that suspects have been identified -- all under 18 years of age -- but there have been no arrests thus far.

Aug. 12-14 - Sometime over the weekend, one or more persons tried to set fire to J.H. Sissons school. Black scorch marks and the remains of a fuel cover were found at a back wall of the school. The damage was superficial.

Mid-to-late October -- The Yellowknife Fire Department reports five fires around Con Mine, mostly near fuel tanks. Deputy fire chief Chucker Dewar said the culprit or culprits built boxes out of logs with propane tanks and other cylinders of flammable gasses on top, and lighting them on fire.

Nov. 1 -- A blaze guts an air tanker base near the Yellowknife airport, causing more than $300,000 in damages. It takes firefighters more than three hours to contain the fire, which was hampered by explosions caused by flammable materials.

Since then, another school - J.H. Sissons - was attacked, an air tanker base near the airport burned down, and several deliberately set fires were found burning in the bush near Con Mine.

Constable Roxanne Dreilich said the investigation of those fires has been turned over to the RCMP's General Investigative Section (GIS). The team is made up of one sergeant and five constables.

Dreilich confirmed Friday that the team was investigating whether there is any connection between the fires, but cautioned that their investigation is still far from over.

"Because there's been a higher number of fires than normal, there might be some connection," said Dreilich.

"That's all just something very preliminary right now."

The GIS team are generally "assigned more serious cases," said Dreilich, and is more concentrated and specialized in its investigation.

Two weeks after the fire at Ecole St. Joseph, the RCMP announced that they had identified a number of suspects - all under 18 - but no arrests were made.

"Basically the suspects were just people who were identified as being of interest," said Dreilich.

"(We're) not even close to laying charges."

On Nov. 6, Yellowknife Catholic Schools, which administers Ecole St. Joseph, announced a $2,000 reward for any information leading to arrests for the blaze.

"Any reward being offered might spur someone to report something," Dreilich said.

Deputy fire chief Darcy Hernblad of the Yellowknife Fire Department said they are very concerned with the recent rash of fires but was reluctant to say if any of them may be connected.

"(There have been) a lot in a short time frame," said Hernblad.

"The only connection I would say is that we've had a lot of suspicious fires."

Hernblad said a number of jerry-cans have been found at some fire scenes around Yellowknife, including a fire near the Yellowknife River bridge last month and fires set around several locations at Con Mine.

Shannon Gullberg, Yellowknife Catholic School Board chair, said the thought that an arsonist is on the loose is frightening.

"That's very disturbing that there is someone out there deliberately setting fires," said Gullberg.