A 19-year-old Fort Smith man has been charged with the arson of the old Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Centre in Conibear Park on New Year’s Day.
Lyndon Tyrell McKay, the alleged fire-bug, made his first court appearance on May 28. The fire was deemed suspicious by the RCMP after it destroyed the building on the evening of January 1 at approximately 10:00 p.m. The suspect was arrested and charged with arson on May 20, the day after another night fire engulfed another building in town.
The RCMP declined to comment further on the specifics of the Chamber of Commerce building fire because it is still under investigation.
“He has been charged with arson, and because the matter has yet to go before the courts, we can’t speak to details yet,” Sgt. Kevin Platford of the Fort Smith RCMP told The Journal.
The Chamber of Commerce building was used by different community groups in recent years, most notably the South Slave Friendship Festival. The Friendship Festival had much of its belongings stored in the building, all of which were lost.
The visitors’ centre fire is one of a string of suspicious fires in Fort Smith since the beginning of the year. On March 28, a residential fire on St. Ann’s St. in a basement caused extensive damage to the house. The building was unoccupied. The fire is still under investigation, and a report is still forthcoming from Bill Reimer, assistant fire marshal for the South Slave.
Wes Steed, acting Fort Smith fire chief, told The Journal the fire on St. Ann’s was also suspicious.
Most recently, a fire on May 19 completely engulfed and destroyed Fort Smith’s former post office, reducing the building to smoking rubble. The old post office was owned by Armando Berton and used for storage.
The Fort Smith Volunteer Fire Department responded to the call shortly after midnight and fought the fire for more than 10 hours. By the time firefighters had extinguished the flames, the fire had destroyed the entire building. Steed said that fire was also “suspicious.”
He noted it was a challenge to deal with because of the way it burned.
“It was an extremely hot fire. We were unable to get heavy equipment when required to access the seed of the fire, and I advised firefighters not to enter the building,” Steed said.
Steed said he couldn’t say for sure what was stored in the building that caused it to burn so hot. There are a number of privately-owned derelict buildings in Fort Smith; many are used for storage, with most of them owned by Berton.
“Any abandoned building that’s left unattended has the risk of being set on fire if we’re dealing with somebody who is playing with fire,” Steed said.
The town has issued more than a dozen property clean-up orders since the beginning of the year, Fort Smith Mayor Janie Hobart told The Journal. Owners who have received clean-up orders have been given until after spring clean-up to get their properties in order.