UPDATED: Suspicious fire at Kamloops Food Bank destroys 'pretty much everything'
The Kamloops Food Bank will run out of food within three days of operation without the public's help, after a suspicious fire at its Wilson Street location destroyed nearly all of its non-perishable goods.
The fire started around 8 p.m, according to acting fire chief John Kieper, who was the first member of Kamloops Fire Rescue to arrive on scene.
“The northernmost corner of the building was burning, and witnesses basically said there were people in that area just before,” he told KTW.
While the fire went out fairly quickly, crews first had to make holes in the walls of the burning structure to gain better access.
“Our biggest concern was the exposure of the building beside it, because the first part of it was written off already,” he said.
“The smaller building, I'd say it's totalled.”
Firefighters were able to limit damage to the shed area, but Food Bank warehouse manager Wes Graham said that area of the building was where all of the organization's food supplies were kept.
“That food we have in there has to last us until our food drive in September,” he said. “That is pretty much everything we have.”
Graham wasn't sure what the dollar value of the food in the warehouse is, but estimates there were about “60 to 80 banana boxes” full of goods. In the case of a box of canned goods, that can represent up to 65 pounds of food, he said.
“It's very unexpected. I'm very shocked. I was not expecting this to happen,” said Graham.
The Food Bank was able to reopen Friday to service its clients, because some food was stored in the undamaged portion of the building. However, those stores are only enough to keep the Food Bank running for two or three days.
Graham is now calling on the public to help fill the gap before the organization's usual September food drive.
"We're really going to be needing some donations," he said.
While the Food Bank won't be open over the holiday weekend, he encourages people to drop off non-perishable goods in donation bins at local grocery stores, which will be checked throughout the weekend.
Homeowners living near the property say at least one person was hanging out in the area of the Food Bank for several hours before the fire started.
A neighbour who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal said he saw a man ducking in and out of the area several times before the blaze, in what he described as an “extremely” suspicious manner.
While he hadn't seen the man in the area before, he said it's not uncommon for the Food Bank's parking lot to attract suspicious characters.
He said he previously phoned the RCMP after an attempted break-in at the site, and said an unused corner of the Food Bank lot was home to a “party shack” for several months, which hosted late night gatherings and drug deals.
“There's a lot of suspicious activities,” he said.
RCMP have released a description of the man, who they're calling a "possible suspect." He is non-white, male, has long hair and may have been carrying a red sleeping bag or backpack.
So far, patrols have failed to locate the man.
An investigation into the fire, which Kamloops Fire Rescue has deemed suspicious, is ongoing.