COLLINGWOOD – People in Collingwood are on edge.
“People are scared, people are nervous,” said Mike Carter, Fire Services Co-ordinator with the Municipality of Cumberland County.
Carter was talking to close 130 people who packed into the Collingwood & District Fire Hall Thursday night to talk about a rash of fires in the past three weeks that has destroyed four vacant homes in the area, plus one failed attempt to start a fifth vacant home on fire.
Carter took questions, along with members of the RCMP and Collingwood Fire Chief Jake Cotton.
RCMP Sgt. Dave Lilly said the fires are currently under investigation, and said he believes the fires are connected.
“We don’t have proof of that but It’s hard not to suspect they are connected,” said Lilly.
He added that it takes time to gather information and process that information.
Some in the crowd made it clear they want the process sped up.
“I understand we need evidence before we can arrest somebody,” said one man in the crowd. “But it’s too late after a volunteer fireman’s dead or a family member is dead.”
Lilly encouraged people to report suspicious activity, such as seeing somebody walking down the road with a five-gallon can of gasoline or kerosene.
One man responded by saying if he sees somebody walking with a five-gallon gas of gasoline he might do more than call the RCMP.
“Make sure they’re not going to fill up their broken-down car a few kilometres down the road,” said Lilly, before reminding people not to take justice into their own hands.
Some in the crowd said rumours have spread that the fires are being started by a member of the fire department.
“I went through this same scenario in the Joggins/River Hebert area three years ago,” said Carter. The exact same things were being said, ‘It’s a fire department member starting the fires, and the RCMP were not doing their job.’”
He said it’s disheartening to hear this latest rumour.
“This rumour got to the chief. He was very upset over these allegations. This allegation went directly to the Fire Marshall,” said Carter.
Several people in the crowd thanked the fire department for their hard work and dedication during the past three weeks, and the crowd responded by clapping for the department.
In the meantime, the RCMP asks people to stay away from the scene of a fire, saying they could bring a dog out to track the scene and too many people could hamper the dog.
Lilly hopes the Thursday night’s meeting will help discourage any future fires.
“I’m hoping that with all these people out here tonight and knowing that everybody cares, that, whoever is responsible for this, If they have any common sense, will cease and desist immediately before somebody gets hurt,” said Lilly.
The first fire was Feb. 5
The second and third were on Feb. 20
The fourth fire was Feb. 26
The attempted fire was Feb. 27