Arson is suspected as a blaze levelled the Copley Park East playground at the 600-block of Vanalman Road on Wednesday morning (July 1).
The park is about 150 metres along the Colquitz River Trail, east of where the trail bisects Vanalman.
Saanich Fire responded to a 2:49 a.m. call from neighbours and had the original response unit had the fire under control within 15 minutes.
It’s the second time in five days a deliberate fire was set to the playground.
“It’s premature to say it’s a confirmed (arsonist),” said Saanich Police Sgt. Steve Eassie. “There appears to be two ignition points, and it was started with a similar (method) to the fire (which did considerably less damage) here on Saturday (June 27).”
The first of the two fires, which police believe are likely related, was reported at about 11 p.m. on Saturday. The damage from that fire was significant but limited to a single structure. Saanich Parks staff repaired it and deemed it safe for use as of Monday.
As of currently, the playground, or what’s left of it, is fenced off, a wasteland of twisted metal, charred wood and burnt bark mulch.
Police are investigating both fires.
“I’m blown away by the stroke of luck that the whole park or the forest area or any of the neighbouring homes (didn’t catch on fire) with how dry it is right now,” said nearby resident Elizabeth Hall.
(Inset photo: Copley Park East playground before it burned down. Credit Saanich.ca.)
“Anything (in the playground) that could melt, melted, and anything that could burn, burned,” said Capt. Rich Pala, Saanich Fire department.
The heat of the fire melted the side of a plastic park garbage can, about five meters from the fire.
“It looks like vandalism,” Pala said. “It’s likely (the fire) was deliberately set but the definitive cause of the fire, we don’t have evidence for that, we don’t have any evidence to suggest it was smoking materials, like a smouldering cigarette butt.”
Pala said they got lucky on two fronts. Firstly, the playground is surrounded on many sides by concrete, and short grass (some of which was still green). Secondly, it was a still night without much wind. The playground could very easily have set ablaze a heavily wooded area of Colquitz Creek, just a few metres away.
“With that dry wooded area nearby, this is an extremely concerning event,” Eassie said.
Anyone that may have information about these incidents are asked to contact the Saanich Police Department at 250-475-4321 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).