December 31, 2014 - 2:30 PM
THIS WEEK, INFONEWS.CA IS COUNTING DOWN THE TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE YEAR. TODAY: NUMBER THREE
VERNON - Authorities called it the worst fire-setting spree in recent memory, and with the close of 2014, we still don’t know who’s responsible.
Over 20 fires were set across the city this past year, beginning in late spring and concentrating in the summer. They started small, with torched dumpsters, piles of recycling and wooden pallets, but quickly escalated to boats, motorhomes and worse.
The historic Kin Race Track grandstands were lost in a suspected arson and hundreds of fruit packing bins at Growers Supply were destroyed in a suspicious fire. The rash of arsons even made its way to the doorsteps of the Vernon Courthouse, where a fire was lit beneath a sheriff's car. Police obtained video surveillance from the courthouse and circulated an image of a person of interest.
The RCMP pooled resources into the investigation, brought in the expertise of a crime analyst, deployed officers to high risk areas and enlisted the eyes and ears of the Citizens on Patrol. As the losses from arsons continued to climb, police admitted they needed a break in the case.
While the string of arsons remains unsolved, police were able to conclude an individual case. Two men, aged 24 and 30, were arrested for setting fire to a pile of trash behind AJ’s Pets & Things on 31 Avenue. RCMP investigators do not believe the pair was responsible for any of the other fires. Police said the slew of fires revealed the need for better video surveillance within the city.
Police don’t know if a serial arsonist—or arsonists—is to blame, or if the fires were set by copy cats. Complicating the Kin Race Track fire is the fact that the facility is the source of an ongoing legal battle between the Okanagan Equestrian Society, the City of Vernon and the North Okanagan Regional District. The fire at the grandstands happened the night after the society announced it was canceling the 2014 racing season due to mandated electrical repairs. The society claimed the order was a ploy by the city to deplete the society’s funds and win the lawsuit. Fire investigators ruled out the possibility the fire started due to an electrical malfunction.
The police file into the long list of arsons remains open. Anyone with information that could advance the case can contact the Vernon RCMP at 250-545-7171 or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014