Major crime unit investigating after fire destroys part of New Westminster Pier Park
Old pier sections 'completely destroyed' after Sunday night fire, mayor says
The major crime unit with the police department in New Westminster, B.C., is now investigating a massive fire that engulfed a portion of Westminster Pier Park late Sunday, destroying the oldest parts of the pier and leaving the city's chief tourist attraction and community gem in ruin.
A statement Monday said the unit has been called in to help fire investigators figure out what caused the fire.
Flames tore through the eastern end of the waterfront boardwalk, near the foot of the SkyBridge across the Fraser River. The city's fire chief said the fire, which stretched several blocks at its peak, began moving "very quickly" after log pilings beneath the timber promenade started to burn.
"It was actually a five-, six-acre site under the pier that was fully involved," said Chief Tim Armstrong.
Fire officials said the blaze worked its way into the creosote pilings and could burn for days.
The park, which was opened in 2012 after an extensive remodelling, is packed with grassy areas and gardens, trees, picnic tables, courts, public art and playgrounds. It is a cherished community hub and top tourist spot all year-round, with the 600-metre waterfront boardwalk the main attraction.
There are two main sections to the park: a brand-new section and the old wooden pier. The new area was unaffected, but the old section, with the well-known "Wow Westminster" public art installation, was heavily damaged, said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote
"The pier underneath is severely damaged and the W will need to come down. Hopefully, we'll be able to save it and relocate it. But our focus for now is putting out the fire."
Firefighters from neighbouring cities sent crews to help the New Westminster Fire Department contain the fire late Sunday. Thick clouds of dark, acrid smoke poured from the flames, billowing into a glowing sky already dangerously hazy with smoke from wildfires in the United States.
The orange glow of the blaze was visible from across the Fraser River in Surrey, B.C.
Cote said the public is being asked to stay away from New Westminster's downtown on Monday if they can, as the air quality is extremely poor because of the smoke. Classes have been suspended at three schools and operations at the local courthouse have been reduced as a result of the fire.
"It is definitely not putting out the kind of smoke people should be breathing," Cote said.
The entirety of the park and a portion of Front Street remain closed in the area as firefighters work. Cote said the fire department and the Coast Guard are working to lessen any environmental impacts of the fire on the Fraser River.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call investigators with the major crime unit at 604-525-5411.
There was no SkyTrain service between Columbia and Scott Road stations because of the fire late Sunday. Service has since been restored.
With files from The Canadian Press