Richibucto arena damaged by fire

The small eastern New Brunswick community of Richibucto woke up Thursday to find its arena so damaged by fire that it will have to close the facility for the rest of the winter.
It took more than 50 firefighters about one hour to get the blaze under control. ((CBC))
The small eastern New Brunswick community of Richibucto woke up Thursday to find its arena so damaged by fire that it will have to close the facility for the rest of the winter.

But neighbouring communities are already offering to help and the mayor has vowed his town will have an arena by next year.

The J. Charles Daigle Memorial Arena caught fire between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on Thursday.

Gilles Belleau, the town manager, said it's believed the fire started in an electrical panel inside the arena.

"The front of the arena, I would say, it's just gone and burned and all that," he said.

"I can't describe that; it's really hard this morning."

Firefighters were called about 5 a.m., said fire Chief Sean Sullivan, who had been there just a few hours earlier, playing a late-night hockey game with his team. By the time firefighters arrived, smoke was billowing from the front of the building and flames were shooting from the roof, he said.

One firefighter suffered a mild burn on his arm fighting the blaze in Richibucto, which is roughly 70 kilometres north of Moncton on the east coast of the province, said Sullivan.

Devastating damage

It took more than 50 firefighters from Richibucto and nearby Rexton about one hour to contain the fire. The damage to the arena, which has had a number of upgrades in the past couple of years, including a new roof worth $250,000, is significant, Sullivan said.

"It's completely gutted. The front of the building is completely ruined, the mezzanine area, the canteen area, what we call the lounge area upstairs, the area where the people could watch the games, the heated area — it's completely gone, gutted.

"All the glass that was there is completely melted, the steel beams are actually melted."

Richibucto Fire Chief Sean Sullivan was on the first hockey team that played at the arena when it opened in 1973 and was among the last people to use the arena Wednesday night, before the fire. ((CBC))
The fire marshal is trying to determine the cause.

Sullivan said he was a member of the first hockey team that played at the arena when it opened in 1973.

"I played the last game in here" before the fire. "Hopefully I'm not the last one ... It's gonna be a big, big loss."

A steady stream of motorists drove by during the day to look at the charred remains of the building. Many said they don't know how they'll get through the winter without the arena, where an estimated 600 children play hockey and many games and tournaments are booked.

"That's the only thing we have, for winter time … hockey for the kids," said Melanie Hebert, whose son and daughter both play the sport.

"I spent the better years of my childhood in that arena, so it's pretty sad to see it go, for sure," said Benny Mazarolle, who grew up playing hockey there.

Belleau said the fire is a huge blow to the community, which also used the arena as its central meeting area.

"You know, in the winter, it's the only place that people go," Belleau said. "They just come here and play hockey … it's the most important place in town."

Temporary loss

Mayor Meldric Mazerolle said his phone was ringing all day.

"We've been blessed already by Elsibogtog — the native community. They've already called and offered their arena to help us with our minor hockey," he said. "And knowing Kent County, I'm sure Bouctouche and Cocagne are gonna call pretty soon, if they haven't already" to offer their arenas.

Mazerolle said he grew up playing minor hockey in the community and he knows how important the arena is to local children.

"School and minor hockey — I think I'd put minor hockey first and school second probably, and you know it's important for the kids.

"It's a place for them to spend their time and they have to have an arena. I mean, there's none in Kent County, in this end of Kent County, so we have to have this arena back. So it's definitely gonna be a disappointment for them, but I can guarantee them that it's temporary."

The town had insurance and it will have an arena by next year, Mazerolle said. It's unclear whether it will be repaired or rebuilt.

Classes at École Soleil Levant, a kindergarten to Grade 8 school nearby, were cancelled on Thursday because of the fire.