The Parksville Fire Department is investigating an early morning fire at the McMillan Arts Centre on Wednesday that damaged the exterior of the building and threatened hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art inside.
The administrator of The MAC said she doesn’t have much doubt about the origins of the blaze.
“It’s been escalating every single day and I knew in my heart something tragic was going to happen,” said Linda Matteson-Reynolds. She said she cleans “bags and bags of garbage” every day from underneath the ramp to The Mac, right where the fire damage was evident on Wednesday morning. “Yesterday there were three needles,” she said. “They’re here every day, every night. They steal from the (nearby) SOS and they bring stuff over here and they rummage through it.”
Matteson-Reynolds said she calls the RCMP “all the time” about the issue and she called them about it again on Tuesday, just hours before the fire.
“I guess we are going to have to hire security.”
RCMP Cpl. Jesse Foreman confirmed police have received calls from The MAC about the issue.
“For some reason they’re hanging out, I’m assuming they are homeless people,” said Foreman. “As we go there they move.”
“It’s a delicate situation on what you do in the middle of the night; you don’t want to kick people out of a place where they are trying to get shelter,” said Foreman. “There’s a need for these people to have somewhere to stay.”
Matteson-Reynolds said The MAC and the other group in the old heritage building (the Parksville and District Association for Community Living, PDACL) share insurance on the building itself and she said an adjuster was on the way Wednesday. The MAC has separate insurance for the contents of its space.
The fire department responded at 4.15 a.m. Wednesday.
“Due to the quick action of neighbours who noticed the fire in its early stages, the department was able to extinguish the fire with damage limited to the ramp and exterior of the building and only smoke to the interior of the building,” said a news release from the city. “The fire started on the outside of the building, on the ramp to the upper floor and is considered suspicious at this time. The department will be investigating the cause of the fire today.”
Fire Chief Doug Banks added: “Another five to ten minutes, the fire would have been much further along and this would have been a major loss to the city. Because of the immediate response by neighbours, a heritage building was saved.”