Arson suspect arrested as ongoing New Westminster pier fire impacts air quality in Metro Vancouver

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      After a fire severely damaged a pier in Metro Vancouver this past week and continues to contribute to poor air quality already polluted with wildfire smoke, police have arrested a suspect.

      The New Westminster Police Department (NWPD) announced today (September 17) that officers arrested a male suspect for arson-related offences related to the Westminster Pier Park fire that broke out on the evening of September 13.

      Police released the suspect from custody on a number of conditions.

      According to the NWPD, investigators don’t believe the public is at any further risk and they are not searching for any additional suspects.

      Police are continuing to gather evidence and will forward a report to Crown Counsel for formal charges to be considered. The suspect's name and identity information have not been released yet as charges have not yet been laid. 

      However, the investigation remains ongoing and the NWPD major crime unit would like to speak to anyone with any further information about this incident.

      The Westminster Pier Park consists of a 600-metre boardwalk along the Fraser River, and was built in 2009. The old wharf structure is about 100 years old.

      The City of New Westminster announced on September 16 that as the public art installation—a 140-feet W made from four shipping containers entitled WOW Westminster by Brazilian artist José Resende installed for the Vancouver Biennale’s 2015 Open Air Museum—was damaged by the fire, it has been disassembled and removed from the damaged boardwalk.

      New Westminster Mayor Jonathan X. Cote stated in a news release that it had to be removed because the wharf was “too unstable” and “the connections between the installation and the wharf were so degraded due to the impact of the fire that it was not possible to remove WOW Westminster in its intact form in a safe way”.

      Although the main blaze was extinguished by fire firefighters, creosote, which is a chemical-based wood preservative that covers pier pilings, continues to burn and could continue on for weeks.

      Firefighters have to remove surface planks in order to reach the burning pilings underneath.

      Fraser Health stated in a news release that fine particulate matter—PM2.5, or airborne solid or liquid droplets with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres (µm) or less—can penetrate into indoor spaces due to their size.

      Exposure is a health concern for people with underlying health conditions (lung disease, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], asthma, diabetes), those with respiratory infections (including COVID-19), pregnant women and infants, children, and older adults.

      Fraser Health also warned that short-term exposure to creosote may cause respiratory irritation. 

      Metro Vancouver is continuing its fine particular matter advisory that has been in effect since September 8 for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Regional District due to wildfire smoke from Washington, Oregon, and California, as well as the New Westminster wharf fire that is continuing to produce smoke.

      The federal Air Quality Health Index rates Metro Vancouver from 7 to 8, which are high risk, and are forecast to continue at the same levels tomorrow (September 18).