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‘It’s a huge blow’: Fire damage seeps deep into soil and souls for Victoria community gardeners

Oswald Park blaze leaves lasting environmental concerns

Scorched garden beds and contaminated soil are all that remains after an April 8 “inferno” destroyed a Victoria community garden.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, and all the Oaklands Community Association can do during the prime growing season is lament the loss of thousands of hours of volunteer work and years of dedication, said Sandy Robertson, association co-executive director.

“One crazy night has probably destroyed the whole thing. Right now we can’t even get in there to assess the damage,” Robertson said.

The fire destroyed a shed and thousands of dollars worth of equipment inside, as well as the supplies on hand to build a pair of benches the association planned for a commons area so people could just sit and enjoy the garden space.

Adjacent raised beds are beyond repair and even the fence is scorched.

Alongside the fire damage, are environmental concerns associated with the three plastic compost containers melted in the blaze and fire suppressant materials used by firefighters.

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“We don’t even know yet how much damage it’s caused to the garden beds itself … we’re going to have to do soil remediation,” Robertson said.

The Oswald Park community garden officially opened last April, but it was eight years in the making – with optimal growing soil created through thousands of hours of transporting dirt and compost.

What makes it worse is now it is planting season. The association even had three fruit trees set to go in this week to kickstart an orchard on site as part of its goal to aid in food security for the neighbourhood. The loss of 26 plots of growing space is disappointing for all, but for some the food provided is essential, Robertson said.

“It’s a huge blow … food in Victoria is nuts right now, the prices are crazy, this isn’t just a hobby, this is food security as well,” he said. “Having that option of growing your own food taken away is disheartening.”

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While the gardens are a key component of the association programs, the organization also offers a variety of child care, community dinners, space for the Good Food Network and community initiatives at the site.

“We don’t know the full impact of how this is going to affect us,” Robertson said.

Insurance will eventually cover at least some of the losses, but those looking to help can visit

RELATED: Oaklands community gets growing with new garden plots in Victoria

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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