UPDATE: Police treating fire in Christina Lake as suspicious

Erin Perkins
By Erin Perkins
August 28th, 2012

Grand Forks RCMP are treating a fire that burned down one home, one unoccupied log house and several outbuildings at 1833 Hagglund Road in Christina Lake as suspicious.

The property and home, owned by the “Bear Dude” Allen Piche, is “nothing but a smoking hole in the ground”, said Grand Forks RCMP staff sergeant Jim Harrison.

The neighbouring house, owned by Piche’s wife Kathleen Wickie, remains unharmed, said Christina Lake Fire Rescue Department fire chief Ken Gresley-Jones. Another two or three neighbouring houses are also fine. Although no one was evacuated, Grand Forks RCMP were diverting traffic on the rural road to enable fire vehicles to shuttle water to the remote site, said Gresley-Jones.

Harrison said nobody was home at the time of the fire. Police have already spoken with Piche. The B.C. Fire Commissioner’s fire investigator and the Kootenay Boundary Regional Detachment General Investigation Section will continue on with the investigation.

Gresley-Jones was the first on scene last night when the Christina Lake Fire Rescue Department got the call of a smoke sighting shortly after 5 p.m.

“I was the first one on scene and the home was going up then,” said Gresley-Jones, adding the fire appears to have started in Piche’s home, on the first floor from causes unknown. “The cause is unknown, but suspicious.”

The Boundary Sentinel caught up with Piche earlier today while he was in Grand Forks. Piche is devestated by the fire, in which he lost everything. Piche had only just returned to the home after moving in with a friend for the past few months to avoid the bears on the property. He’d moved all of his personal belongings into the home on Sunday, Aug. 26, including his 17 year-old cat, who remains missing. He was golfing at the Christina Lake Golf Club the day of the fire and did notice the smoke on the mountain side.

Gresley-Jones said the fire was already burning too hot to enter the home and he didn’t see any animals at the time.

“Thankfully the firefighters got it quickly under control before it was a total disaster,” said Harrison.

Regional District Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) Area C director Grace McGregor would agree.

“I want every man, woman and child in Canada to know what a good job our firefighters did last night,” said McGregor. “It is because of them we don’t have a fire running rampant through Christina Lake today.”

Piche’s property was the subject of a search warrant, which was executed by the RCMP West Kootenay Traffic Service on July 30, 2010. The police found 1,102 marijuana plants and up to 24 bears being fed by Piche. Piche was charged with feeding the bears earlier this year and was fined $6,000.

Fire is 80 per cent contained as of today, Tuesday, Aug. 28

The fire was .08 hectacres in size and today crews continue with the mop up, which includes extinguishing hot spots, said Karlie Shaughnessy, fire information officer with the Southeast Fire Centre.

Today there are 17 BC Forest Service personnel on site protecting the community. Shaughnessy said Christina Lake residents may continue to see some smoke puffs today but the fire is 80 per cent contained.

Last night the Christina Lake Fire Rescue Department, along with the assistance of the Grand Forks Fire Rescue department, tackled the four structure fires while the Southeast Fire Centre crews tackled the wildfire.

“(Christina Lake firefighters) did an excellent job and so did the forest services crew — those guys are phenomenal,” said Gresley-Jones.

“The winds made it really volatile,” continued Gresley-Jones of the challenges fire fighters faced. “There were fire bands two kilometers long that were around us … The forestry water bombers were hugely appreciated.”

The fire departments were done by 10 p.m. last night — five hours after the initial call. Mop up of the wildfire will continue over the next few days until fire crews are confident all the hotspots have been extinguished.

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