VIDEO: Victoria police investigating 'suspicious' boat fire in Gorge

A suspicious fire destroyed a boat in the Gorge Waterway Friday morning.

Multiple 911 calls came in around 1:10 a.m. reporting that a small sailboat was fully engulfed in flames just north of the Selkirk Trestle near Banfield Park, said Victoria Fire Department deputy chief Dan Atkinson.

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The department’s fire boat was on scene within 12 minutes and began pumping water on the sailboat, which was tied to a small floating dock. “We arrived to a fully involved sailboat with flames showing from all areas of the vessel and flame from the dock it was tied to,” Atkinson said.

There was no indication anyone was on the boat and no one was found in the water, he said. The boat sank but charred remains were visible at the water surface on Friday.

The fire department cleared the scene at 1:50 a.m. and turned it over to the Victoria Police Department and the Canadian Coast Guard. A fire inspector returned to the scene to gather evidence, Atkinson said.

Police are treating the fire as suspicious.

Rob Wickson, a director with the Dead Boat Disposal Society, said he’s aware of the 30-foot sailboat that caught fire. Wickson was concerned when the man living aboard was attaching debris, including a large piece of styrofoam, to the side of the boat.

“The place looks like a garbage dump,” Wickson said. “It’s just not good at all.”

Other boats have burned on the Gorge Waterway under suspicious circumstances, Wickson said, including one in May 2018. He’s concerned about the environmental impact on the waterway.

The society’s president, John Roe, said the complex bureaucratic procedure around removing boats means the charred wreckage could be in the Gorge for months.

The society must issue a 30-day notice to Transport Canada to apply to remove the vessel.

“It could be September or October before we get that out of there,” Roe said. It took over a year for the society to remove the boat that burned in May 2018, he said.

The Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, passed in 2019, mandates fines of up to $50,000 for individuals linked to abandoned boats, but Roe said it can be difficult to find the owner.

An abandoned boat sank in the waterway in January and is now tethered to the trestle, which Roe said is another hazard.

Long-term mooring in the Gorge is regulated by the City of Victoria and limited to 48 hours at a time, and a maximum of 72 hours in a 30-day period.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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