Penticton family's fears of ongoing arson compounded by lack of RCMP response | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Penticton News

Penticton family's fears of ongoing arson compounded by lack of RCMP response

The aftermath of the fire on May 18, 2022, at the Burlingame's home in Penticton.
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A Penticton family doesn’t feel safe in their own home after a second fire started on their property in the span of two months.

The Burlingames were woken abruptly during the early hours of May 18 to find the cedar trees on their lawn in flames and action had to be taken to prevent the fire from spreading. The exact same scenario occurred on March 11.

Jennifer Burlingame believes she located the person responsible Wednesday night, May 18, but after calling the police, she said officers were not willing to attend.

“It doesn’t feel like anything's being done to prevent or stop this,” she said.

It wasn’t worth a police response, she was told, because the evidence she had against him wasn't strong enough.

“They basically said he had to be caught red handed starting the fire.”

That was frustrating for Burlingame to hear after she tracked down the suspect.

As soon as she ran out of her home 3:22 a.m. on May 18, she noticed the fire was being watched from across the street by a man with a BMX bike and a woman. She asked if they saw anything, and was told someone with a bike and trailer was seen going down the alley beside their home on Argyle Street. Their home is on the corner of an alleyway. 

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Later that day, she walked down her alley to look for homes with surveillance cameras. She found one, was able to get the footage and saw a man on a maroon bike towing a trailer leaving the alley shortly after the fire began.

One of Burlingame’s neighbours recognized the man from the footage and says he's seen riding through their alley on a regular basis.

After posting the footage to the local Facebook group, more tips came in to help identify the suspect.

Burlingame said her husband has friends who are strong advocates for a safer city, and they did some "snooping."

“It’s very clear that this is the guy who did this," she said.

Later that same day, Burlingame’s husband and his friends located the man outside of a Tim Hortons. That was when the police were called but declined to attend, she said.

“My husband came home very frustrated and defeated.”

Burlingame said a couple continued to monitor the suspect. They told her he was followed to the creek beside the Wholesale Club on Main Street, where they discovered four separate fires started by in trees, shrubs and fences.

“They watched him with his torch,” she said, as he applied the flame “to pieces of cardboard and wedging them to start fires.”

They phoned police, Burlingame said, and she was told there was a large response from the police who deployed about eight cop cars to search the area. However, they lost track of the man and it's unclear if the man was located.

READ MORE: RCMP investigating Penticton car dealership fire as arson

Penticton RCMP Staff Sgt. Bob Vatamaniuck did not want to comment on an incident that garnered attention on Facebook. 

When asked if police consider the fire to be arson and if the man identified by the citizens is a suspect, he said the RCMP is in communication with Burlingame, officers will follow up with her, and the investigation is ongoing.

Burlingame said her follow-up calls and emails are not being responded to.

When she went to social media about the first fire on her property, there was a sense of cheerfulness. She was proud of her young son who heroically woke up the family, while both of her sons were excited to see the firefighters in action. She presumed the fire was started by a smouldering cigarette butt.

But now that it’s happened a second time, Burlingame is fearful that an unstable street person might have a grudge against her or her family, or some twisted fixation with her property.

“Maybe he just likes the look of our cedars for some reason.”

The family’s remaining cedar trees have been cut down to prevent them from being used as fuel for a third fire. The trees couldn’t be removed from their property immediately, so they doused them with water in an effort to feel safer.

Both fires were in rows of cedar trees, although they were on separate sides of the property.

Burlingame woke up to this week's fire because a passerby was banging on her door. She opened her windows and couldn’t see any flames, but she could see a familiar orange glow.

“I recognized that orange glow.”

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Burlingame said the flames had engulfed several of her 25 foot cedar trees when her family first got outside. Some neighbours looked after their children while others helped the parents mitigate the flames before fire crews arrived.

She was especially grateful for Mike Blake, a security guard who noticed the fire while on patrol and arrived with a fire extinguisher.

The fire had been reduced to a smoky amber by the time fire crews arrived, she said.

In addition to the trees, the fire ruined the family’s trampoline and a fibre optic cable that Telus had to send a technician to fix.

Burlingame worries that more fires will be intentionally set in Penticton if the man she suspects to be responsible is not apprehended.

She’s proud of her neighbours and many members of the community for rallying behind her family in both emergencies, but says it might be time to find a new place to call home.

“Everything’s tainted, we want to move out of Penticton.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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