Police believe North Saanich marina fire that killed man in his 50s started on boat

The fire that killed one man in his 50s and injured two and destroyed multiple vessels at North Saanich Marine Sunday afternoon sent a large plume of smoke into the sky that was visible across the region, with this picture being taken from Sidney. (Submitted)
It is not clear yet what caused the fire that killed one man in his 50s and injured two Sunday afternoon at North Saanich Marine. The fire though destroyed multiple vessels and a fuel dock. (Vern Crawford/Submitted)
Witnesses to Sunday’s fire at North Saanich Marine that killed one man in his 50s and injured two say they heard an explosion. The fire destroyed multiple vessels and a fuel dock. (Vern Crawford/Submitted)
Canadian Coast Guard, North Saanich Fire and Sidney Fire among other emergency crews responded to the fire, which started sometime before 4 p.m. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It is not clear how many vessels the fire destroyed, with RCMP speaking of multiple vessels. A spokesperson for the RCMP said Sunday additional investigators will be on scene to help investigate the incident that killed one man in his 50s. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
This was the scene minutes before one of the vessels damaged during Sunday’s fire sank. One man in his 50s died and crews took other individuals to hospital. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Donna and Clive Timms could watch the fire that destroyed a boat Sunday afternoon at the North Saanich Marina from their home (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
This picture shows what remains of the fuel at North Saanich Marine following Sunday’s fire (Shawn Kosmuk/Submitted)
This picture shows Sunday’s fire at North Saanich Marina off the Tryon Road area looking west. (Shawn Kosmuk/Submitted)

Donna and Clive Timms had front row seats to the inferno that destroyed multiple vessels and parts of North Saanich Marina Sunday afternoon. A man in his 50s died and two people were taken to hospital.

The North Saanich couple was relaxing at home on Wincott Road overlooking the marina when they heard what Donna Timms described as a “big explosion” just around 3:30 p.m. “It sounded like a cannon dropped on our roof. We both came running outside and we could see a bit of a fire at the dock, but within 10 minutes it just fully ablaze. Just a mess.”

Donna sat on the veranda of her home as she spoke Sunday. Less than 300 metres away dark smoke drifted over the small inlet between the Timms’ home and the marina, where crews mopped up the fire that an hour earlier had punctured the blue sky over Sidney and North Saanich, the smoke visible as far south as Central Saanich.

RELATED: UPDATED: One dead, two injured following a large fire at North Saanich Marina

Like his wife, Clive Timms did not see the explosion. But their account — in part second-hand and unconfirmed — speaks to the intensity of the incident. Neighbours “saw the explosion and a body fly,” said Clive. “There [were] calls for help,” added Donna. “It was very terrifying. There were huge flames coming up.” She later described multiple explosions on the dock and around the boat. “All the different tanks were blowing up,” she said. “Bang, bang, bang.”

It is not clear yet how many people the incident impacted. Brook Castelsky, chief operating officer of the Oak Marine Group and designated spokesperson for North Saanich Marina, did not immediately return calls for comment.

Speaking with the Peninsula News Review Monday afternoon, Cpl. Chris Manseau of the Sidney/North Saanich RCMP said it will be a while until police determine an official cause with the boat expected to be floated in the coming days after sinking around 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon. But police currently believe the fire started on the boat, then spread to the dock, he said. “But then again, that investigation is still ongoing.”

When asked whether the fire started after the boat had fueled, Manseau could not give a definitive answer.

“Some of the investigators just got a copy of some video and I think they are just poring over now to make that determination, but I don’t think they know whether the boat was even fuelling or not.” Police also do not know whether the fatality happened on the fuel dock or on the boat, he said.

Manseau said earlier Sunday evening that RCMP expect a “long, involved and complex investigation” that will use multiple teams of specialists including an underwater recovery team and a special unit trained in explosives.

As of Monday, police consider the death to be non-suspicious, said Manseau, adding that the RCMP’s investigation is running parallel with a fire investigation and a WorkSafeBC investigation. BC Coroners Service is also investigating and will not identify the man killed other than he was in his 50s.

North Saanich Fire Chief John Trelford said 30 firefighters from North Saanich, Sidney and Central Saanich responded to the incident, with 20 coming from North Saanich. Canadian Coast Guard and RCM-SAR36 also worked the incident that posed some challenges.

The marina’s fuel dock is at the end of marina with access to it limited, Trelford said. The narrow walkway also limited response capabilities. When fighting a fire on land, crews can choose their attack angle, he said. This said, crews were also able to fight the fire from the water, which gave them more flexibility.

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