Members of the remote community of Bella Bella on the central coast of B.C. were crestfallen after the arrest of three teenage girls just hours after a suspicious early-morning fire destroyed its main community building, which houses the only grocery store, library and post office.
“We’re a tight-knit community and I do know that they have talked to others in the community and have apologized,” said Marilyn Slett, chief councillor for the Heiltsuk First Nation, which owns the building. “From what I understood from discussions earlier today, they didn’t set out to do that (start the fire), but things got out of hand, I guess.
“We’re really working hard to get through it as a community and seeing how we can get through it in a positive way.”
On Monday, RCMP announced the arrests of the local girls, aged 13, 15 and 16, in connection to Friday’s devastating fire that has suspended youth summer camps run out of the library and made it difficult for the roughly 2,000 residents to get everyday necessities. Mounties and fire investigators will now forward their findings to Crown, who will review the case and determine whether charges against the girls are warranted.
No one was injured in the fire that started some time around 3 a.m. and destroyed the 35-year-old building, which also houses the town’s only liquor store. The band is now dealing with its insurance company to see what is covered, Slett said.
“Right now we’re just trying to get through the process of getting supplies out to the community, to the people that need it,” Slett said.
In the meantime, groceries are being delivered via ferry and the band is seeking donations for immediate assistance to those most in need via the website RebuildBellaBella.tumblr.com.
Canada Post is trying to set up an alternate place to deliver mail and the band is working to get donations of books delivered, Slett added.
Bella Bella is on Campbell Island on Lama Passage in the Great Bear Rainforest. It has no road access to the mainland. Described as the Gateway to the Rainforest, the community has a BC Ferries terminal and an airport with regular flights to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island and YVR’s south terminal.
The fire will have an economic impact on the community because of the 30 to 50 people who worked in the businesses and organizations in the building, Slett said. “We’re trying to set up plans for our staff,” she said. “It employs a lot of people in our community. We have to look at people who were supporting their families.”