Two young adults from the Columbia Valley have been arrested and could soon be charged with arson relating to a fire that destroyed five uninhabited buildings in Columbia Eagle condominium block in Fairmont Hot Springs on December 22nd.
After what Columbia Valley RCMP Corporal Grant Simpson called a “very complex investigation”, police were able to identify two suspects: a 20-year-old woman from Fairmont and a 25-year-old man from Invermere.
Crown Counsel in Cranbrook will now consider whether arson charges can be laid against the pair to bring the case to court. Under the Canadian Criminal Code, arson is a hybrid offence that can result in a prison term of up to 14 years if the case is treated as an
The pre-Christmas fire swept through five buildings that had lain empty and exposed to the elements since being built to the lock-up stage (about 50 per cent complete) several years ago.
The homes had frames and walls in place at the time, but only concrete foundations and rebar remained after the intense fire, which was described by Windermere and Fairmont fire chief Jim Miller as producing an “absolutely unbelievable” amount of heat.
The structural fire incinerated virtually all evidence at the site, making the police investigation a difficult task that relied on witnesses and following complex procedures to secure information, Cpl. Simpson explained. The investigation determined that the owners had no insurance on the properties.
The homes did not have any electricity, water or sewer services connected, and were behind a locked fence at the time of the blaze, which started at around 10:30 a.m. Due to the lack of a natural source for a spark to ignite the fire, police and firefighters immediately suspected arson. Three buildings of the five were completely engulfed in flames by the time RCMP arrived.
Police identified a strong suspect within days of the fire, and announced the recommended charges late on January 17th, after speaking to both suspects at the RCMP detachment in Invermere earlier that same evening. Neither suspect is described as being known to police, meaning they are likely without criminal records.
Police estimate the value of property loss as a result of the arson attack to be between $1.5 million and $2 million dollars.