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Likely Fairview arson fire bugs me — a lot

September 15, 2015

The scene at 4 p.m.; still exactly as I saw it at 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Sometime overnight, between Monday, September 14th and Tuesday, September 15th, someone torched some of the plastic recycling blue bins in the alley behind a business on the south side of the 1300 block of West Broadway Avenue.

It was about 10:30 p.m.Monday evening when I last saw these bins intact and undamaged.

I had paused on Birch Street at the intersection of the alley on the south side of West Broadway Avenue, on my way to my sleeping spot, after a few hours of binning for returnable beverage containers.

I scanned the alley of the 1300 block for possible containers left beside bins or dumpsters and went so far as check the closest Container bin to me on the east end of the block.

This put me nearly opposite the bins in question and any damage to them would’ve been obvious at a glance.

Tuesday morning at about 7:30 a.m. I saw the blackened remains on my way to breakfast. What had happened was obvious from half a block away.

As a binner, I don’t want to be seen anywhere near such a disaster area, lest I be marked as the culprit. In this case though, there were already Vancouver police on the scene — one unmarked black cruiser and a marked paddy wagon — so I ventured into their midst without fear they would have particular cause to think that I had set the fire.

I needn’t have worried. The police were wrapping up their response to an unrelated incident one building over and the officer that I spoke to was unaware that there had been a fire next door (and he was none too concerned when he found out).

This doesn’t mean that someone wasn’t caught for setting the fire hours earlier earlier — I certainly hope so but I just don’t know, one way or the other.

Spreading the word to help put a stop to this sort of thing


This bin didn’t catch fire but didn’t escape unscathed either.

After I stopped to take some photos at about 4 p.m. this afternoon, I took the opportunity to talk to a tenant in the multi-unit building more-or-less across the alley from the site of last night’s fire.

This building has a security camera that points toward the alley and the tenant said that she would talk to her building manager about checking the camera footage for evidence regarding the fire.

It’s been a few years since the last such bin fire in Fairview. Earlier this summer,though, in an alley behind a residence in the Cambie Village area, a plastic garbage bin was set on fire overnight and resulted it moderate damage to the corner of a one-car garage.

I look for returnable beverage containers in this alley a few afternoons each week. I happened to be making my way bin-to-bin in time to watch a car being pulled out of the garage and hauled away and I stopped to talk to one of the residents of the property.

They had actually slept through most of the fire, they told me — it was one of their neighbours who had called the fire department — but the experience had really rattled them all the same.

In the past I have dismissed some partially burned bins as being evidence that a night binner stupidly used their lighter to see what’s in the bin (don’t roll your eyes, I’ve seen idiots do this) but I know that there have been too many incidents over the years of people going around at night and setting such fires deliberately.

The time I had to satisfy an officer’s burning curiosity

The scant remains of what was probably a mixed paper bin.

The scant remains of what was probably a Mixed Paper blue bin.

One such arson back in either 2011 or 2012, that reduced a condo’s entire set of recycling blue bins to slag, no doubt was in the back of the strata council’s mind when, in 2013, they finally locked away all their dumpsters and blue bins behind chain link.

There was such concern about a slightly earlier spree of garbage fires in the alleys of the wealthy Shaughnessy  neighborhood that Vancouver police had to recruit outside their force to help beef up overnight patrols in the area.

I don’t know if the person that set those garbage bin fires was ever caught, only that one night while I was binning late in the area I most certainly caught the attention of an RCMP officer who had been pulled off of his regular desk duty to help the VPD by sitting all night in his cruiser in a pitch black Shaughnessy alley waiting for a firebug to show up.

Naturally, when I pedaled up the rutted dirt alley with my bike and trailer and my 70 lumen headlamp cutting through the darkness I had his undivided attention.

The officer stopped and questioned me and then let me go on my way. A short distance on, he stopped, questioned me and let me go again. The third time he frankly admitted to me that he was following me because he hadn’t the slightest idea of what business I had in the back alleys at midnight or what I meant by “binning”.

So I explained to him how the Vancouver blue box recycling program worked in residential neighbourhoods — how residents put their full blue boxes out for collection once a week and how the containers put out for recycling included  returnable beverage containers, each with a small redeemable deposit value. And I told him that I was one of many people who earned money by collecting those returnable containers.

And finally I told him that even as we spoke, for kilometres in every direction around him, full blue boxes were out, waiting to be collected by the city first thing in the morning and that there were people out also, on foot, on bikes, and driving cars, collecting the returnable containers.

He might not see too many of these people in Shaughnessy, I told him, because of how the rich residents mostly refused to pay to either light or pave their alleys, on the principal that they didn’t use their alleys and felt no great need to encourage the kind of people who did.

Burning the bridges for all binners

Anyway, seeing the charred remnants of the blue bins on Tuesday morning stopped me cold.

Arson is an especially intolerable crime because there is often no more reason behind it than blind compulsion; that and the fact that the arsonist recklessly releases a deadly force that they have no control over — sowing the wind in hopes of reaping the whirlwind — there’s more than a whiff of terrorism to it.

There’s also the small matter that such dangerously scary behaviour, left unchecked, could conceivably lead to, not just physical harm but also a knee jerk crackdown against random back alley activity in general, which could cost us binners the prerogative (or should that read privilege?) to collect returnable containers.

It’s enough already that residents have to deal with a fairly constant parade of non-residents in the back alleys and accept the minor but constant trespassing of strangers onto their property to check Container blue bins or dumpsters.

Throwing arsonists into the mix with binners could certainly be like throwing gas on a fire.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s in all of our interests — residents and binners and homeless people alike — to look out for the safety of the neighbourhoods; to get to know and communicate with each other at least to the extent that we can spot the truly dangerous people and stop them before they do something to wreck it for everyone.

That’s me speaking from my heart, my sense of community and my self interest. Click the images to enlarge them.

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