By Geoff Agombar
Local Journalism Initiative
Another fire in Farnham last night struck a business and two residences at 180 Rue Principale Ouest. The Friperie Brume has been destroyed and two adults and a child have lost their homes.
Patrick Morin, director of the Service de sécurité incendie de Farnham, estimates roughly forty firefighters from seven towns responded to the call. “The cold did not help but we had support from several towns. We were able to establish a rotation, so we could warm up.”
Valérie Beauchamp, spokesperson for the Sureté du Québec, confirms officers were called to a suspicious fire in a business and adjoining duplex around 11:30 p.m., and specialists are on site gathering evidence to determine the causes and circumstances that lead to the incident. No injuries are reported, and the affected residents have been relocated to be with friends.
This is the fourth fire to strike the community since Dec. 26. Calls for support and rumours are circulating on social media as the locals rally to help and struggle to make sense of the flurry of tragedies.
In the early morning hours of Boxing Day, ten people lost their homes following an electrical fire that destroyed four residences in three tightly packed buildings at the corner of Rue Saint-Jean and Rue Saint-Joseph. No residents or firefighters were injured.
On Dec. 29 around 9:30 p.m., an accident at Cantine chez Roger led to heavy smoke and water damage, but the structure survived. Reports said the origin was not electrical, as there were no outlets near the ignition point. Seemingly, residue from a deep fryer caught flame and a sprinkler system engaged but did not reach the full area engulfed. No injuries were reported.
On Dec. 31 around 11 p.m., firefighters responded to a blaze originating in the basement kitchen of another restaurant, Casa Medina at 340 Rue Principale Est. The kitchen was reportedly destroyed, but residences in the building above seemingly were not lost.
Like yesterday’s fire at the friperie, the local fire service noted potentially suspicious elements at the kitchen fire and forwarded the case to Sureté Québec for investigation. “Certain elements were considered suspect by us, but I don’t think the SQ determined it to be criminal,” Morin said. “SQ decisions are rarely transferred back down to us. That’s something I’m going to try and change this year.”
Beauchamp confirms that the Casa Medina fire is not yet closed, as certain investigative steps are still underway. “There were investigators on site to try and validate, and they concluded that it was possibly electrical or accidental. They conducted certain tests just to make sure it was not criminal, but I don't have results from some of the experts yet. What I can tell you is, it was pointing toward non-criminal.”
Reached by telephone Wednesday afternoon, Farnham mayor Patrick Melchior was unavailable to talk as he was in an emergency session called to talk with police and fire services. After each incident, Melchior has been active on social media and in the press to discourage rumours, reassure the community and recount actions underway in the community to support the residents and businesses directly affected.
It is true that fires in Farnham have been a frequent topic of concern recently. In mid-June, there were reports of three suspicious fires on a single weekend. A Friday night fire that damaged a small bridge, then a Saturday morning fire in the siding of a new building the next morning, then the following evening in a downtown building scheduled for demolition within days. Later that month, a 45-year-old man was arrested for an arson case dating back to fall 2019. Another restaurant fire on St-Paul Street on June 30 was also considered suspicious enough to warrant investigation at the time.
Last November, a suspicious fire due to a short circuit in the electrical did more than $100,000 damage to construction vehicles, equipment and inventory in a garage behind a Rue Principale residence. A 57-year-old man was arrested and charged with theft and arson within twelve hours.
Like the mayor, Morin recognizes the tendency to draw connections when so many incidents occur in such a short period. Initial reports of suspicions inevitably generate greater attention and concern than the subsequent determinations that those suspicions proved unfounded.
“It is very hard to explain. There are years when there are very few fires and there are years when there are many. When it's not criminal there is nothing to link them, so it's hard to predict,” Morin says.