LAC LA BICHE - Lac La Biche RCMP and a provincial fire investigator are confirming that a Monday morning fire at a long-serving Lac La Biche drive-thru was arson — and it was the first of two seemingly deliberate blazes set in the community in just over a day.
Local police and fire crews were called to the V&H Space Dock restaurant on 101 Ave. and 105 Street at 1:20 Monday morning. Flames had already destroyed much of the drive-thru restaurant's interior and collapsed the back half of the building. The fire was put out in less than half an hour. There were no reported injuries in that fire.
A little more than a day later, police say they arrested a woman in connection with what they say was another deliberately set fire of a large storage building along the back alley that runs south of Main Street. Police say emergency crews were called out at 9:20 Tuesday morning to a fire at a storage building on the former A&T Construction lot.
At this point police have not linked the two fires. They say a 24 year old local woman has been arrested in connection to the Tuesday morning fire at the storage building, but suspects are still being sought in the V&H blaze.
New building set to open soon
The V&H fire is devastating to the business's owners. Ali Fyith says the restaurant has been part of the community for more than 50 years — and he's been proud to own the establishment in recent years.
Fyith is in the process of opening up a new V&H restaurant just a few blocks away — and ironically just a few hundred feet from the storage building burned on Tuesday. The original location had been set to be closed next Wednesday — June 30.
"We had exactly nine days of operating left starting today," Fyith told the POST on Tuesday, "still rattled by the loss of the business that helped him create the new building.
"The building has been like a landmark of sorts and a monument in the Lac La Biche business community for 50-plus years," said Fyith, explaining that the abrupt ending to that history is hard to take. "We were planning to close this very positive chapter of the fast food hot spot and carry on the VH saga in a modern and upscale location that would best represent our business today."
The disruption of the fire is expected to put the opening of the new location back a few days — but Fyith and his family want their customers to know they are still forging ahead. He even managed to add a little advertising plug into his comments on the fire.
"One of the most exciting options will be the dine-in option which has really created a buzz among our very loyal customer base. It's one they deserve and one we are very happy to offer ... hopefully by early July."
In the RCMP report issued Tuesday afternoon, Corp. Roxanne Genereaux said police are asking the public for any assistance in their continuing investigation into both of the fires.
"Our main thing at this time, is that if anyone knows any information, or may have been a witness to either of these, to please come forward," said Genereaux.
Fast response to fast-food fire
Lac La Biche Regional Fire Chief and Lac La Biche County's Manager of Protective Services John Kokotilo said the quick response for the early morning blaze at V&H confined the flames — but much of the damage was already done.
"Crews arrived on scene within 11 minutes and had the fire under control within 25 minutes," Kokotilo told the POST. "The rear of the building which had a small storage structure attached — upon our crews' arrival, this area was fully involved in flame. The main building is still standing, but has extensive exterior and interior damage."
Kokotilo said any grease or flammable objects inside the restaurant didn't affect the fight to put out the fire.
"The fire source was mainly structural flammable building components," he said.
Tuesday's fire at the storage building caused damage to the exterior around the front doors. No one was reported to have been injured in that fire.
Lac La Biche RCMP say they will update information on the files from both fires once charges have been officially sworn against the woman and any new information on the V&H fire is received.
Lac La Biche RCMP are asking for the public's assistance with any information in relation to these incidents (or identifying those responsible). Anyone with information can contact the Lac La Biche RCMP at 780-404-2500 Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).