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New Salem on edge after series of suspicious fires

Smoke rises from what’s left of a barn that burned early Thursday morning on the South Branch Road in New Salem. The cause of the fire has been determined as suspicious and RCMP are investigating. It’s the seventh fire in two weeks. - Don Fletcher photo
Smoke rises from what’s left of a barn that burned early Thursday morning on the South Branch Road in New Salem. The cause of the fire has been determined as suspicious and RCMP are investigating. It’s the seventh fire in two weeks. - Don Fletcher photo

RCMP investigating seven cases of arson

NEW SALEM, N.S. —

This is a community on edge.

A series of fires has left people in this tightly-knit community near Advocate Harbour in Cumberland County sleeping nervously as RCMP try to find who’s responsible.

“There have been five structure fires and two vehicle fires in the couple of weeks and it has everyone nervous,” said New Salem resident Don Fletcher, who represents the area on Cumberland municipal council. “The people I’ve talked to have told me they’re very worried, so worried that they’re sleeping with one eye open.”

The latest fire, at 5:05 a.m. Thursday, saw RCMP and the Advocate and District Volunteer Fire Department respond to a barn that was on fire. The investigation has determined the fire to be suspicious.

No one was injured.

“Police are actively investigating, but until someone says something or until they catch someone I don’t see the mood here changing,” said Fletcher, who lives near where one the fires, that destroyed a home, occurred. “The fires are happening late at night or early in the morning, so it’s hard to catch someone in the act.”

Suspicious fires have caused fire departments across Cumberland County to be very active in recent years. In 2015, there were a number of fires in Joggins, including one in May that destroyed five buildings in one evening and resulted in several convictions.

“People here know what took place in Joggins and they’re thinking here we go again,” Fletcher said. “The only thing with this is it appears all the fires are connected to one family.”

Fletcher said it places strain on fire services having to respond to these fires.

“We have an older fire department in Advocate and those who are younger may be out fishing when there’s a fire. Yesterday (Thursday) when I was on my way to Amherst there were a bunch of firemen out there trying to herd cattle because a bunch got loose.”

Last February, there were a number of suspicious fires in the Collingwood area, destroying four vacant homes, with RCMP and officials from the county and fire departments to urge the public to come forward with information.

At the same time, there were more fires, mostly grassfires, in the Springhill area, while another deliberately set fire destroyed the former Lamp Cabin lounge at the edge of the community.

Cumberland’s EMO coordinator Mike Johnson said all these fires do nothing to allay people’s level of fear. He said there are people out there who have information about all these fires, including the most recent ones in New Salem, and he’s urging them to come forward to RCMP. Or, if they want to keep their anonymity, they can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

“Hopefully we don’t reach a point where someone gets hurt because there’s always the potential of that happening,” Johnson said. “Even if the intended target is not where someone is going to get hurt, once you start a fire you can’t control what it’s going to do.”

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