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'Items don't just catch on fire by themselves': Fire in Vancouver's Chinatown deemed suspicious

It was a busy weekend for fire crews.
Fire crews put out a fire in the alleyway behind the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver on March 26, 2023.

Vancouver firefighters were busy Sunday evening with a fire in a Chinatown alleyway.

Around 5:15 p.m. on March 26, crews arrived on the scene in the alley behind the Chinese Cultural Centre and Vancouver Film School buildings at 50 and 88 E Pender St.

VFRS spokesperson Capt. Matthew Trudeau tells V.I.A. the second alarm blaze didn't injure anyone but did damage the exterior of a building. Luckily firefighters were able to douse the flames before they got inside, though the smoke had to be ventilated after. 

The Vancouver Police Department has been called for an arson investigation, Trudeau adds, as it's been deemed suspicious by the fire department's investigators.

"At the back of the building, the items don't just catch on fire by themselves," he tells V.I.A.

However, what the actual cause of the fire was and whether it was intentional is unknown at this time.

The fire was part of a busy weekend for firefighters, who dealt with several second-alarm fires including a grocery store at East Broadway and Fraser Street, which left one firefighter with minor injuries early Saturday morning, and a commissary kitchen in the Downtown Eastside which has left several businesses scrambling.

The fire in the kitchen was also deemed suspicious.

"It was determined that the fire was not accidental," writes Const. Tania Visintin in an email to V.I.A. "VPD's arson unit will be investigating to determine the circumstances that led up to the fire."

Trudeau says this week saw 99 fires, which is a 14 per cent increase in fire activity; there was also a 36 per cent increase in overdoses compared to the week prior. That's in addition to the fact that last year and this year have been record-setting years for the VFRS when it comes to fires.

"When we have a record number of fires in the city it's obviously of great concern to us," he says.

With the latest series of fires, many of them started externally. While some were put out before the flames entered the building, those that do get inside are a serious concern, Trudeau adds.

"Suppression systems aren't designed for an exterior fire spreading inside," he says.

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