A structurally devastating fire ripped through the front part of the Evergreen Mall at 6660 Sooke Road this morning in Sooke. The Sooke Dance Studio and RBC Royal Bank offices are completely demolished, and the offices from end-to-end in the front section are completely unsalvageable
The fire started at around five in the morning and at one point was fairly contained. A firefighter said that 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 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, should be okay. There is 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. Sorensen said they have a crew on the roof monitoring the situation, to ensure that it doesn’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.
“We’re waiting for extra help to come in. We’ve already had a police dog here. Once this cools down, we’ll bring in forensic ident (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 was heavily drawing on the water in the Sooke reservoir.
UPDATE: 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,” reads a notice on their website (http://www.crd.bc.ca/)
“About an hour ago, we were down to half,” said Sorensen, at 10:35 a.m. “At one point we were going through five thousand gallons a minute.”
“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 roof 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.”