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Arsonists depleting firefighting resources in Cumberland County


Arson in Springhill likely the work of more than one arsonist

SPRINGHILL, N.S. – Arsonists are taxing firefighter resources to the maximum.

“I came into the fire hall in Springhill the night before last and, to a person, they were all telling me how tired and worn out they were,” said Mike Carter, Fire Services Co-ordinator with the Municipality of Cumberland County. “And when you have weather like this it just compounds everything.”

Firefighters from throughout Cumberland County gathered at the Springhill Fire Department Thursday night to discuss the rash of fires plaguing Springhill this year.

Abandoned building fires in Cumberland County in 2018 have exceeded the number of fires in 2016 and 2017.

“In 2016 we had 36, in 2017 we had 36, and at this point in 2018 we’ve had 37,” said Carter, adding that 75 per cent of those fires are suspected to have been started by an arsonist.

The numbers for wildland fires are even worse, with 64 in 2016, 79 in 2017, and 71 so far in 2018. Most of those, 75 per cent, are also suspicious.

The high volume of fires means firefighters go long stretches with little sleep; and so do their families.

“Every time a pager goes off the people at home don’t know what’s going on, and don’t know if their family member is hurt,” said Carter.

“A lot of them don’t go back to sleep either,” added Stanley Hunter, Chief of the Springhill Fire Department.

Responding to fires produces wear and tear on trucks and equipment, and also cleans out fuel budgets.

“We reworked the Springhill budget Tuesday night to get Stan through to the third quarter,” said Carter. “They used all their fuel budget by the end of June. $4,000 for fuel, and it’s gone.”

The fires have also had an impact on neighboring fire departments.

“It’s not just Springhill. We’re calling Collingwood and Southampton for mutual aid, and they’re beating their vehicles over the roads, so they’re running higher fuel costs as well. It’s just crazy,” said Hunter.

Fires also deplete the resources of the RCMP and other first responders.

A fire early Wednesday morning in Westchester is a good example.

“We’ve had a local RCMP member there for 36 hours, with people switching off,” said RCMP Sgt. Dave Lilly. “If you’re on overtime you’re making $100 an hour to sit there and guard this house, but we have to do it for continuity purposes.”

It was pointed out that one RCMP officer can have a case load of 90 files at one time, and sitting by a burned down house isn’t the best use of resources.

“We try to get members on day shift, but it’s summertime and people are on vacation, people on training, people off sick, it takes a hard toll on our members. We’re all feeling it,” added Lilly.

Besides firefighters and RCMP, fires often require the presence of the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation, Nova Scotia Power, and EHS.

“When EHS is available they will park at the fire scene to help with any injuries. They don’t have to do that but it is a service they offer,” said Carter.

And Fire Marshalls are so busy they often don’t make it to a fire for days, if at all.

The fires have an impact upon the psychology of communities.

“People who are around these fires are scared,” said Carter.

Carter was fire service co-ordinator when arson sprees hit River Hebert and Joggins and, most recently, Collingwood.

“When I talked to the folks in Collingwood they were not only scared, they were angry. There were threats of shooting people. Hopefully they were idle threats,” said Carter. “It was the same in the Joggins and River Hebert area. They were scared and nervous.”

He also pointed out that some people in these communities have accused a member, or members, of their fire department for starting the fires.

“I heard the rumours in Joggins and River Hebert, I heard the rumours in Collingwood, and now I’m hearing the rumours in Springhill,” said Carter. “That’s very disheartening for the fire department to hear those rumours. They’re out there working hard, and taking flak like that from the public is disheartening.”

The Mode of Operation for starting fires in Springhill is different.

Carter said, unlike the fires in Collingwood and River Hebert/Joggins, the fires in Springhill appear to be started by different arsonists.

“The Collingwood fires had a very distinct MO. A rock or an object would be thrown through a window and some accelerant would be dumped into the house and it would be set of fire,” said Carter. “The Springhill fires are not the same.”

He suspects copy-cats.

“People are seeing this done and see them getting away with it, and are copy-catting.”

Arsonists in Springhill and Collingwood haven’t been caught, but the Joggins, River Hebert arsonists were caught.

“The only reason the three young fellows in River Hebert and Joggins got caught was because they couldn’t keep their mouth shut,” said Carter. “They were their own worst enemy.”

Other fires discussed at the meeting.

The Collingwood arsonist burned down a home being renovated

“The gentleman had the house cleaned out, painted, and ready to start moving furniture in, then an arsonist set it on fire, and the insurance company would not pay out. Now the house is ruined, and he’s got nothing,” said Carter.

Another home in Tidnish had a brush with an arsonist.

“There was a planter hanging on the gentleman’s veranda. He heard somebody messing around on his patio,” said Carter. “He came out and the hanging pot was set on fire. It was a poor attempt, but it was an attempt.”

There was also the fire that ruined an $80,000 children’s playground on Mechanic Street in Springhill.

Most Cumberland County councilors attended the meeting, including councillor Maryanne Jackson.

“They still haven’t heard back from the insurance company,” said Jackson.

Also, the recent fire at the Lamp Cabin restaurant in Springhill is still under investigation.

Somebody at the meeting suggested more needs to be done to demolish abandoned buildings.

“We’ve removed 40 buildings in Springhill alone,” said Jackson. “That’s a significant amount for a community of this size.”
Carter said it would be a daunting task.

“I drive around this county a lot, and there’s a lot of derelict buildings everywhere.”

Carter also said it’s only a matter of time before somebody is killed.

“People are sticking with wildland fires and abandoned buildings. How do they know there’s not somebody in these buildings?”

Anybody with any information about suspicious fires are encouraged to call the Cumberland RCMP or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477)

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