Four suspicious fires in the span of four months prompted local RCMP to bring in a fire specialist to assist with the investigations this week.
“We are treating these fires as suspicious in nature,” said Sgt Rick Skolrood. “No one’s been harmed yet, but there is always a potential for tragedy so we are taking it very seriously.”
All of the fires have occurred on the 4-Mile reservation. Between June 10, 2018 and Sept. 2, 2018, there have been four separate suspicious fires; a home in the 900 block of Four Mile, an abandoned trailer in the 800 Block of Four Mile, gas cans were set on fire near an apartment in Four Mile and a home in the 800 Block of Snuqaax Mamnta was burnt to the ground.
Suspicions as to the cause of the fires have been mounting with every incident they have investigated, Skolrood said.
“It doesn’t make any sense statistically to have this many fires.”
The most recent fire occurred on Sept. 2, 2018 at the home of Frank and Lorraine Tallio at 855 Snuqaax Mamnta Rd. Their two-story home was completely destroyed.
“I woke up around midnight and smelled smoke,” said Frank Tallio. “I just had enough time to warn the others on the top floor before our bedroom window exploded from the heat of the flames.”
There were a total of 13 people living in the home, including many of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and thankfully all escaped with their lives. Not a single possession was able to be salvaged, however, and they left with the clothes on their backs.
“We lost everything, absolutely everything,” said Lorraine Tallio. “I’ve cried for days.”
Frank said he’s also hesitant to label the fire as arson, but his years as a firefighter have him feeling unsettled.
“I don’t want to jeopardize the investigation, but I took a good look around and it does look suspicious to me,” he said.
The fire started at the back of the house and quickly spread through the top floor and into the basement. The Nuxalk Fire Department responded quickly but was unable to save the home.
The family is now split apart, staying with various relatives in less than ideal situations. Frank and Lorraine are staying in a two-bedroom apartment with their grandson and his family, bringing the total occupants in that home to nine.
Their granddaughter and her children are with another family member and Lorraine’s uncle, who is 82 and has lived with her for the past 12 years, is another residence.
They have no idea when they will get a home again, and this isn’t the first time they’ve been affected by fire.
“We lost our home 22 years ago to fire and it’s really hard,” said Lorraine. “I feel like we are back to wandering around again with no place to call home.”
Fire investigations can be complex and lengthy, and even if investigators can determine a fire is suspicious it doesn’t necessarily mean they can determine how it was caused. Skolrood says this is part of the reason they are appealing to the public for information.
“We are asking anyone with information to please share it with us,” he said. “All it takes is a few seconds for a fire to go from damaging property to a major tragedy involving human lives.”
No one is feeling this more than Lorraine Tallio. She is and her husband are understandably shaken by the fire, and she is struggling to make sense of what happened.
“We were so lucky to get out alive,” she said. “Why would anyone do this to us?”
Skolrood is asking anyone with information regarding the fires to call the Bella Coola RCMP at 250 799 5363 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.