British Columbia

RCMP confident arrests are coming 3 years after devastating White Rock fire

If Laura Cornale stands on the patio outside her new coffee shop, she can read the writing on the awning above her old storefront across the street.

Huge blaze at Five Corners intersection in May 2016 destroyed businesses, displaced 100 residents

Flames shoot out of a four-storey building under construction in White Rock's Five Corners area on May 15, 2016. (William Thomas Brooks)

If Laura Cornale stands on the patio outside her new coffee shop, she can read the writing on the awning above her old storefront across the street.

She never looks that way, though.

Cornale even alters her commute so that she doesn't have to pass it on her way to work.

"I'm still stuck on that old place," she said. "It's crazy."

Laura's Coffee Corner and several other street-level businesses at the Five Corners intersection in White Rock, B.C., were gutted on May 15, 2016, when a huge fire tore through the condo complex above them.

Dozens of residential suites at the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Johnston Road were also badly damaged and more than 100 people were displaced.

Cornale doesn't just avoid looking at her old cafe — which has since reopened as a new business — because it makes her sad.

It makes her angry, too.

"There's no closure," she said. "Someone got away with destroying people's lives."

Laura Cornale, owner of Laura's Coffee Corner, says she's frustrated the person responsible for setting the fire hasn't been caught. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

No charges

Investigators quickly determined the fire was deliberately set, but there have still been no arrests.

Const. Chantal Sears with White Rock RCMP says the investigation is progressing.

"Right now, we have evidence that is being analyzed at a lab," she said.

"Knowing who did an arson and proving beyond a reasonable doubt who did an arson are very different."

Sears won't say if the case is linked to several other small fires that were set nearby around the same time or whether a suspect has been identified.

"This file has touched us probably more than a lot of files I've worked on because it's impacted so many people," she said.

"The fact that we had no fatalities and no serious injuries is certainly a miracle."

She says she's confident the person responsible for setting the fire will be caught.

Crews used so much water battling the fire, they nearly depleted the city's reservoirs. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

'Unprecedented' water usage to battle fire

Chief Phil Lemire, who joined the White Rock Fire Department 38 years ago, says the Five Corners fire was the biggest and most catastrophic event he's seen over the course of his career.

He says crews used so much water battling the fire, it nearly depleted the city's reservoirs.

"The amount of water that we were flowing that day was certainly unprecedented," he said.

"Moving forward, the city has made significant improvements in its water system and storage capacity."

Moe Toufic gives a customer a haircut at his barber shop in White Rock. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Businesses recovering

A white, red and blue barber pole spins behind Moe Toufic as he works his scissors through a customer's hair at his shop on Pacific Avenue.

A show about fishing plays on two TV screens to his left.

Toufic is in his element in his man cave, which makes it hard to picture him trading wisecracks with clients at the high end women's salon across the street.

It was a strange arrangement, but when the fire forced Toufic out of his shop for more than two years, he rented a chair at Sin Seven Salon.

"It was a big difference," he laughed.

"Some guys don't like to be between ladies and some ladies didn't want there to be men in the shop."

Toufic was able to reopen his shop last year, thanks in large part to the generosity of his neighbours.

"They were so nice to me," he said.

Dozens of people watch Ocean Ridge condo complex burn across the street on May 15, 2016. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

'A tough day'

On the morning of the three-year anniversary of the fire, on Wednesday, a group of women who were displaced by the blaze visited Cornale at her coffee shop.

They talked about how their rebuilt units are shiny and new but they don't quite feel like home.

Cornale told them she knows how they feel.

"It's a tough day," she said. "We had a good a crying session."


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