Three Parksville Fire Department trucks were dispatched to deal with an early-morning blaze Thursday (Nov. 26) at Mark’s Nature Park.
Approximately 250 feet into the park from Finholm Street north, near the centre of the park, a tent and several belongings had caught fire.
Fire Chief Marc Norris said the blaze appeared to have started in an encampment. No one was in the tent but according to Norris, no one took ownership of that particular location.
“There was a propane barbecue and possibly a propane heater there. It’s most likely that the equipment was too close to the tent, or even in the tent,” said Norris.
He said there was no indication of suspicious activity or if the blaze was set intentionally, but “it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
Beyond the encampment, the fire extended into the surrounding vegetation but didn’t go far, given the current wet and cold conditions, and only took a few minutes to put out.
The biggest hazard that the PFD found were a couple of 20-pound propane cylinders, as Norris described, ‘the size you would normally find on a barbecue.” Firefighters found the cylinders inside the fire on their arrival and had to remove them to eliminate the danger.
Norris said “it would take a significant volume of fire to get to the point where they would actually explode,” and that it wasn’t an immediate concern, other than as a fuel source for the blaze.
The fire chief said the department gets called out to Mark’s Nature Park approximately twice a month now.
RCMP and bylaw officers at the park at 10 a.m. would not comment on why they were on-scene.
Cpl. Jesse Foreman of the Oceanside RCMP confirmed the police were called by the fire department and attended the scene at 5:22 a.m.
“We got there, determined there was nothing suspicious, then we cleared,” said Foreman.
He also confirmed that police were at the scene again to assist bylaw officers with clearing the park of campers.
A camper in the park confirmed he was in the area when the fire started.
“I was sleeping in bed right beside the fire… I woke up, could hear my friend saying ‘help! help! help!’ so I pulled him out of the fire,” said the man. “I pulled them out of the tent and then they ran off. Don’t know where they went.”
He admitted that no one he knew in the park had a phone and had no way of calling for help. But he believes the PFD arrived approximately 20 minutes after the fire started.
He believes the fire may have been caused by a candle inside the tent from someone trying to keep warm.
Another eyewitness to the blaze, who requested to remain anonymous, said “time kinda goes by when you’re sitting there watching somebody’s house go up.”
The City of Parksville issued a press release saying the park is closed to allow their staff to conduct a hazard assessment. The public will be advised when the park reopens.
“Our crew, with heavy equipment moving in and out, will now be working in the park to cleanup fire debris and assess the affected areas,” read the release. “Some trees in the park are affected and with the already compromised condition of some cedar trees, hazard assessment is necessary.”
The city is still without a cold-weather shelter, which was the concern for many campers, noting conditions will only get colder and wetter.