Firefighters come through the smoke to try to douse the stubborn fire at Evergreen Centre on July 31.

Fire devastates local businesses

An early morning fire in Sooke is deemed suspicious

In the early morning of July 31, a structurally devastating fire ripped through the front part of the Evergreen Mall at 6660 Sooke Road in Sooke. All business contained in that building have had their offices and workspaces completely demolished. Included in this list of casualties are the Sooke Dance Studio, RBC Royal Bank, Hub International Insurance, Sooke News Mirror and Zycomp Systems Ltd.

The fire started at around five in the morning and at one point was fairly contained. A firefighter said the spaces between the walls allowed the fire to spread rapidly within the building, shooting from office to office.

“We have the Sooke News Mirror, there’s an insurance office, there’s a dance studio upstairs, (and) a software company. The majority of the upstairs was vacant,” said Fire Chief Steve Sorenson when he spoke to the media.

The businesses behind the front run, from the liquor store onward, were relatively unaffected, although access to Interac and Internet was limited. A fire wall separating the liquor store from the rest of the building, and an alleyway behind the building separating it from the other businesses, protected the rest of the mall. A firefighting crew on the roof steadily monitored the situation, to ensure that the fire didn’t spread.

“At this point,” Sorensen continued, “we’re calling it a suspicious fire. It appears it may have started at the back, at the rear of the bank building.” When asked if it started in the dumpster, Sorensen replied, “We’re not too sure what it is at this point, but it’s definitely suspicious.”

As for how it began, Sorensen said, “It looks like started on the ground floor and it travelled up in the wall to the second floor.”

The police were also on site, and had employed the services of a police dog on the morning of the fire. They also included a forensic identification section “as well as a general investigation section out of our Island District headquarters,” said Staff Sergeant Steve Wright. “We’ve got some information to follow up on. It may or may not be an arson, we don’t know yet; it could have been an accident. We’re not jumping to any conclusions.”

District of Sooke Mayor Wendal Milne was looking on as the building stood in smoldering ruins.

“It’s an old building. I think it was built in the early 70s,” said Milne. “The fire departments have done a great job; I think they’ve done everything they could. It was a very difficult fire to deal with. A couple (of firefighters) just got out before stuff started collapsing. It’s a dangerous fire, and aggressive fire, to deal with.”

Milne wrapped up by acknowledging the collaboration of other fire stations in the area. “Thank goodness for cooperation with places like Langford, Otter Point, East Sooke, and Metchosin who have all come here to help out.”

The fire heavily taxed the water supplies in the Helgeson reservoir. By 10 a.m., Sorensen said they were down to half. “At one point we were going through five thousand gallons a minute.”

Later that same day, the CRD announced that water supply to Sooke residents has been returned to normal. “This morning, the large amounts of water needed to fight a major structure fire in Sooke raised concerns about drawing down the water level in Helgeson Reservoir. This concern has now passed and the water supply to Sooke residents is returning to normal,” read a notice on their website.

“Definitely the biggest fire of the year,” wrapped up Sorensen, “maybe even in the last few years.”

There were no reported injuries, though the firefighters did have to contend with the floor on the second floor over the bank collapsing.

By the early afternoon, demolition of the east wing of the building that housed RBC had begun.

Just after eight, after the entire top floor had been demolished, the fire crew was packing up for the night.

“It’s been a long day,” said Sorensen, after more than 14 hours of being on site. “And we’ll be back here at eight in the morning.” By the evening, there were no hot spots remaining, “But I wouldn’t be surprised if something pops up in the night.” Sorensen said “There will be security here all night.”

The Sooke News Mirror has taken up temporary residence at the Seaview Business Centre, 1A – 6631 Sooke Road, just across the street from Home Hardware.

The Royal Bank will have ATM services available as of August 3 at the Chevron Town Pantry, located at 6610 Sooke Road.  RBC staff will be available to meet with clients on site at Shoppers Drug Mart, located at 6660 Sooke Road.  Staff will be available Monday to Thursday: 9:30 am – 5 pm, Friday: 9:30 am – 6 pm and Saturday: 9 am – 4 pm. As of Saturday, August 3, clients will be able to access their existing safe deposit boxes which have been safely moved from the Sooke branch to the RBC Westshore Town Centre branch at 2945 Jacklin Road, Victoria.

Residents wanting to continue business with Hub International Limited can go through the Colwood office (1736A Island Highway, 250-474-2310) or the Victoria location (2640 Douglas St, 250-385-6313).

The Sooke Dance Studio can be contacted online at http://sookedancestudio.com/ and through their Facebook page.