Southeast N.B. communities fearful as series of suspicious fires continues
Cap-Pelé/Beaubassin-est region has seen 26 fire investigations in recent years, 15 fires found intentional
For Natalie Cormier, the threat of fire at her Grand-Barachois shop is constantly in the back of her mind.
"It's a fear, it's anxiety for some business owners," Cormier said.
"It's who's next? You go to bed at night wondering."
Cormier's business, Able Canvas, burned to the ground in June 2020 and had to be completely rebuilt. The Office of the Fire Marshal determined the cause was likely electrical, but with many suspicious incidents in the area, she worries next time it could burn intentionally.
Residents are once again on edge after the Chez Camille Take-Out, a popular seafood restaurant in Cap-Pelé, went up in flames last month and is considered a total loss. RCMP consider the fire to be suspicious in nature.
The restaurant had already opened for the 2022 season when it was completely engulfed in flames in the early hours of the morning on April 24.
Fire after fire
The Cap-Pelé and Beaubassin-est region, which includes the village of Grand-Barachois, has seen a string of fires in recent years. No fewer than 26 investigations were conducted between April 1, 2019 and April 1, 2022, according to the Office of the Fire Marshall.
The blazes have damaged and destroyed homes, garages, barns, churches, restaurants and industrial buildings in the rural area about 35 kilometres northeast of Moncton.
The results of these investigations are alarming to community members as the majority of the fires, a total of 15, were found to be intentionally set, while nine have an undetermined cause.
Anthony Azard, CEO of the chamber of commerce for Cap-Pelé/Beaubassin-est, said a "sense of emergency" emerged after smokehouses caught fire over three weekends last August.
"That's where the business community started to raise a red flag," he said. "There was something going on."
After fewer incidents over the winter months, Azard said the Chez Camille fire has business owners once again fearful they could be the next target.
"The business community is scared, the citizens are scared. And we don't have the exact answers to reassure them," he said.
'We need some answers'
Businesses in the area have been improving security as much as possible in wake of the Chez Camille fire. The new building for Able Canvas is now surrounded by overnight lighting, cameras and a security system.
But Cormier said many of the businesses in the community are small "mom and pop" operations and can't afford significant security upgrades.
"We need some answers. We need to find a culprit, really, is what we need to do here," Cormier said.
At the chamber of commerce, Azard said members are searching for solutions on how to protect their operations.
"We need the authorities to tell us what needs to be done to reassure the business community, to be sure that they can sleep at night [or so] they can sleep at least a bit more quietly than right now," he said.
RCMP investigating for links
Residents want to know if there's any connection between the string of fires.
The RCMP say they're continuing to investigate past incidents to see if there are any links.
Cpl. Hans Ouellette, a spokesperson for the RCMP in New Brunswick, said he understands that residents of the area are concerned.
"Each investigation takes time and is investigated thoroughly. Since 2019, several arrests have been made in relation to these fires while others remain under investigation," he said in a news release.
The investigation into the fire at Chez Camille is ongoing.
The RCMP is asking anyone with information about these fires to contact them at 506-533-5151. People can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.