'Reckless' or 'mischief', police say fire that levelled B.C. school human caused

COQUITLAM, B.C. — Police say they believe a fire last October that destroyed an elementary school in Port Coquitlam, B.C., was "criminal in nature."

Coquitlam RCMP Insp. Darren Carr said police and fire experts have concluded after months of investigating that the fire did not start from non-human causes such as electrical issues.

The fire at Hazel Trembath Elementary School left only rubble behind in the early morning of Oct. 14.

Police said it was suspicious.

Carr said investigators are now asking those responsible or people who may know who is responsible to come forward.

"Some of the things we have to consider is, was this an intentionally caused fire?" Carr said during a news conference on Friday. "Was it because of reckless behaviour? Could it be mischief? Could it be negligence?

"Those questions will likely be answered once we've identified a person or persons responsible. So, the main thrust of the investigation now will be to answer who committed the fire to the school."

Police say no suspects have been identified.

More than 200 students attended the school and they have been commuting to another site in Coquitlam since the fire.

Carr said the investigation indicates the fire started on the exterior of the school building but he did not say what set it off.

Police have also yet to determine the motive, and the next step of the investigation will be to identify both the people responsible and the exact circumstances, he said.

Investigators said at the time of the fire that they had collected 200 hours of video footage and conducted hundreds of interviews while looking into the case.

“This certainly does not mean that the investigation is over, but rather it has confirmed what we suspected that the cause of the fire was human caused, and it is criminal in nature," Carr said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said police had collected 2,000 hours of video footage.