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50 firefighters fight 9-hour battle as Pioneer Square Mall in Mill Bay burns down

Fire department calls it ‘the fire many people were anticipating’

Following a nine-hour battle to contain a fire that razed the vacant Pioneer Square Mall building on Friday, May 27, Mill Bay Fire Rescue took to Facebook for some thanks and reflection.

“The fire many people were anticipating occurred this afternoon,” the post begins, referring to numerous call-outs the department has had to the property, fighting fires there on at least two previous occasions in the last seven months.

Located at Shawnigan-Mill Bay Road and the Trans-Canada Highway, the building has stood empty and boarded up for many months, creating concerns for the fire department as the building contained a lot of old, dry cedar, and was a frequent spot for squatters to take shelter.

After seeing a “wall of smoke” when responding to the Friday call at about 12:25 p.m., the deputy chief immediately called for mutual aid, bringing in nearly 50 firefighters from six departments, including Mill Bay, Malahat, Shawnigan Lake, Cowichan Bay, Duncan, and North Cowichan.

Also involved were the Ministry of Environment, Office of the Fire Commissioner, BC Hydro, Emcon, the RCMP, BC Ambulance Service and CVSE.

To fight the fire, crews had to shut down the Trans-Canada Highway in both directions, causing a huge backup in traffic on the Malahat on a Friday afternoon at rush hour as people tried to get home from work and start on their weekends.

Firefighters dumped thousands of gallons of water on the blaze, and had to establish control and filter measures so as not to contaminate an adjacent creek with runoff.

A crew and truck were on site all night monitoring hot spots.

The department is sending out a special thanks to Spicecraft and Panago Pizza for donating food to emergency crews.

Previous fires hit the building on Nov. 26, 2021, and on Feb. 17, 2022. Another structure that had been on the property that was falling into the creek had recently been removed.

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Andrea Rondeau

About the Author: Andrea Rondeau

I returned to B.C. and found myself at the Cowichan Valley Citizen.
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