Skip to content

Arson suspected in fire that destroyed excavator in Ucluelet

Company puts out $10,000 reward for information
Braiden and Jodi Gibson stand next to an excavator that was destroyed in a fire that authorities believe was intentionally lit in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 1. Gibson Bros Contractors is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible. (Andrew Bailey photo)

Gibson Bros Contractors is offering a $10,000 reward for anyone with information about an intentionally set fire that destroyed an excavator at a Ucluelet work site early Saturday morning.

“It’s a huge setback and a huge loss,” company foreman Braiden Gibson told the Westerly News at the site on the corner of Marine Drive and Rainforest Road.

“Come forward. We’re willing to work with you if you’ve got information. We’re willing to work with whoever. We just don’t want this to happen to anyone else. There’s lots of equipment in Ucluelet right now, this could have happened to anyone. There’s lots of jobs going on right now.”

He said the $400,000 excavator is insured, but there will be a lengthy process to replace it.

“This machine was set to start working here on Tuesday, so we’ve got to figure out something pretty fast on what we’re going to do. We do have backups, but everything is booked,” he said.

Ucluelet fire chief Rick Geddes was the first responder at the scene after a resident reported hearing a loud explosion around 3:40 a.m. Saturday, April 1, and he arrived to find the excavator fully engulfed.

“It’s very surprising and very upsetting that there’s somebody around in the community, whether they live here or are just visiting we don’t know, that would actually do that and stoop to that level. There could have been significant impacts with the houses and all the trees in that area had the fire got away,” he said. “It had great potential, especially given the time being in the middle of the night…If somebody hadn’t heard that explosion, it would have burned until it got real bad.”

Geddes, who also serves as the town’s fire inspector, suggested it was quickly “pretty obvious” that the fire was set intentionally.

“In this case, there was enough evidence for us to deem it suspicious and start an investigation right on scene literally as soon as the flames were extinguished and it was safe to go in,” he said. “The incident is still under investigation, but all our signs are pointing to that it was an intentionally set fire…There was evidence found outside the machine of an incendiary device, such as a molotov cocktail.”

It is believed glass bottles filled with an accelerant were used to start the fire, though the type of accelerant has not yet been determined.

“I suspect that it is gasoline, but it could be any flammable substance, we just haven’t gotten that far yet. This investigation is still in its infancy stage right now,” said Ucluelet RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Marc Jones.

Jones added that an investigation is underway and police are urging anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area around the time of the incident or has any information about what happened to contact the Ucluelet RCMP detachment at 250-726-7773.

“If anybody can come forward with any information that’s always helpful. There’s a lot of stuff that we still have to do, there’s a lot of investigational routes we have to do.”

He added it is unknown if other construction equipment in town is at threat.

“I can’t say with 100 per cent certainty because I don’t know if this is an isolated incident or if there’s other motives behind what’s going on here,” he said.

The excavator had also been vandalized with spray paint and Braiden Gibson said the incident came “completely out of the blue” and no threats against the company had been made.

“It’s a pretty tough hit. We’ve been here for four generations…It’s brutal. You don’t expect it,” he said.

“It’s upsetting to see in our community,” his sister Jodi Gibson told the Westerly at the site.

“It sucks. It’s just a bummer to have people doing such intense things in our community. We’re out here just trying to work, feed your family at the end of the day.”

Geddes said this is the first suspected arson in his four-year tenure as the town’s fire chief and added that the reported explosion immediately raised his suspicion about the fire being intentional.

“Diesel is flammable, but it’s not highly explosive, so that was my first inkling when I heard there was an explosion. I thought that was odd because normally diesel isn’t known to explode,” he said. “I noticed that the doors were open to the engine compartments on the machine so, again, that struck me as odd. Right away, just putting the facts together, we were already going down the path that this looks suspicious.”

He added that along with putting the surrounding neighbourhood in harm’s way, the arson also put the town’s volunteer firefighters in danger.

“People that do this type of activity don’t necessarily think of the repercussions. I’m paid to be here, this is my job and I love what I do, but I rely on a team of 19 volunteers to get out of bed at 3 in the morning when people need us, when there is an emergency,” he said. “This put our volunteers in extreme danger unnecessarily.”

He said the crew spent about two hours extinguishing the flames.

“I want to thank my crew. We had a great turnout given the time of day and being a weekend night. To have half the fire department show up at a moment’s notice was incredible. They did a great job of keeping that fire to the object of origin and not letting it spread. Once again, the team really did me proud on this one.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

READ MORE: Vessel catches fire before sinking in Ucluelet harbour

READ MORE: GoFundMe launched after fire destroys home near Ucluelet

READ MORE: Ucluelet firefighters tackle fishing vessel fire in Hitacu

Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
Read more