Two of four horse barns at the Alberni District Fall Fairgrounds have been destroyed by a suspicious overnight fire.
The wooden barns were built to host the 1992 B.C. Summer Games, and have been home to seasonal horse shows during the fall fair as well as other events since then, including the RCMP Musical Ride. The barns were empty at the time of the fire.
Port Alberni Fire Department received a call about a structure fire near Vimy Road and Hollywood Street just before midnight on May 16. When they arrived at the fairgrounds, both barns were already fully engulfed, Chief Mike Owens said. Flames had also scorched the remaining two barns.
“Crews worked hard to extinguish the fire and prevent further spread into the remaining horse barns,” Owens said.
“Fortunately there were no livestock being housed in these structures at the time.” There were no injuries reported. Fire crews were on scene for just over two hours, and a security guard oversaw the site after that.
Fire investigators from the PAFD and RCMP sifted through the smoking wreckage on Tuesday morning (May 17), searching for answers as to how the fire started.
“We are treating the fire as suspicious at this time,” Owens said.
Within the last two months there was another fire in the vicinity, past a nearby asphalt plant, when a tent structure burned. That was also labeled as suspicious, Owens said.
Scott Green, president of the Alberni District Fall Fair Association, said this is the second time in several months that a fire has destroyed a structure at the fairgrounds. In mid-December 2021 an office that was located close to the barns burned down.
“These fires are not something that’s just going to happen by themselves,” he said.
Green was one of the people who helped build the barns 30 years ago. “The thing is, the hours we put into this, it’s all volunteer hours,” he said, choking up. “Various groups built these buildings: Kinsmen Club, the Fall Fair, horse clubs…when you see something like this happen, it really gets to you.”
Green said the barns weren’t insured, because the Fall Fair Association is unable to get insurance for all of its buildings due to their age. “With the way insurance is now…we’re only allowed partial insurance on two of our buildings. We’re stuck with the cost now.”
He estimated with high lumber costs they may be looking at a $70,000 bill to replace the barns. “That’s money that we don’t have.”
He said the board is already making arrangements to clean up the site, and a contractor that uses the fairgrounds has offered the use of equipment. The association is already planning for its annual fair Sept. 8–11, 2022. In 2020—which was supposed to be the 75th anniversary—the fair went virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021 they held a combination virtual and trimmed-down in-person fair, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions.
With the fair looming, Green said the board doesn’t have time to look at replacing the barns this year. “Something like this may not get built again because we have no insurance for it.”