The Gustafsen smoke plume as seen on the first day of the fire. (Pauline Weigelt photo.)

Looters at B.C. wildfires typical in disasters: expert

The RCMP said they have arrested a half-dozen people accused of exploiting the evacuations

As if the risk of losing their homes isn’t enough, wildfire evacuees in B.C. have faced the additional threat of looters searching through their belongings after they rushed to safety.

Rob Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University in Surrey, says looting is an unfortunate but routine part of virtually every natural disaster, from fires to floods, hurricanes to earthquakes.

RELATED: Chilliwack man charged with contravening state of emergency in 100 Mile House

“It’s predatory behaviour of the worst kind,” Gordon said, adding that looters are opportunists.

“There is nothing especially organized. People just see a chance to make off with somebody else’s possessions, and they’ll do it if they can get away with it.”

The RCMP said they have arrested a half-dozen people accused of exploiting the disaster over the past week.

Emergency officials have ordered thousands of residents to lock up and leave since the province declared a state of emergency on July 7 after hundreds of fires started across B.C.’s central and southern Interior.

RELATED: More than 100,000 hectares burned so far this season

Gordon said looters are often locals who have had an eye on a particular house or business. Besides cash, the most likely items to be stolen are typically small, portable and easy to resell, such as electronics, jewelry and guns, he said.

“There’s a market in firearms,” he explained. “And they’re, generally speaking, quite easy to move.”

To help prevent looting, Gordon would like to see police train volunteer safety officers who would remain in their communities during an emergency, when it’s safe to do so.

“My betting is there would be a lot of people willing to go back into their communities to protect their property and the property of their neighbours,” he said, comparing it to a volunteer firefighting program.

“It’s a model of emergency service which is already in place in many respects,” Gordon said of auxiliary policing systems. “A lot of communities have them. The Gulf Islands have them. I’m just surprised that is not the case in the Interior.”

Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson said he has been receiving reports of “fake fire marshals” knocking on doors telling residents their street is under an evacuation alert.

RELATED: How to prepare for an evacuation

“We believe that these are people potentially looking for opportunities to rob vacant homes,” Simpson said.

“Most of my thoughts are unprintable. I think it’s unconscionable that these individuals take advantage of this situation.”

Swindlers are not necessarily always on the ground when emergencies hit. Evan Kelly of the Better Business Bureau warned about scam artists who set up fake crowdfunding websites to take money illegally.

“It really comes down to the emotional aspect, and that’s what scammers are trying to capitalize on here,” he said, describing such cons as “the lowest of the low.”

Kelly encouraged people interested in donating online to contribute to charities that have registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. Door-to-door solicitors should be able to provide a tax receipt immediately without leaving the front step, he added.

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATE: Tsunami warning cancelled for coastal British Columbia

Warning issued following 7.9 earthquake off Kodiak, AK

Charlie Rensby wins council seat in Burns Lake

He received 55 votes while Bruce Martens received 43

B.C. CareCards to expire in February

Residents expected to get a B.C. Services Card

Fire department currently recruiting

Four additional members are being sought

Safety taskforce committee chosen in Burns Lake

The committee will address traffic and parking issues

Initiation tournament in Burns Lake

The littlest Burns Lake Bruins hosted a tournament at the Tom Forsyth… Continue reading

Canada, TPP agrees to revised deal without the United States

Canada and the remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have agreed to a revised trade agreement

Tsunami warnings 101: Canada

Here are some things to know about tsunami alerts in Canada and how they work

Rogers Media cuts ties with Vice Canada

Rogers Media and Vice Canada are ending their three-year-old partnership, pulling Viceland TV channel off the air

VIDEO: Fuel truck and train collide in B.C. causing massive fire

More emergency crews are still arriving on scene of a massive fire at the Port Coquitlam rail yard.

Back to work: U.S. government shutdown ends after Democrats relent

Short-term spending measure means both sides could see another shutdown stalemate in three weeks

Man lives despite malfunctioning defibrillator at B.C. arena

A middle-aged man went into cardiac arrest after at game at Pitt Meadows Arena last Wednesday.

Cause of Northern B.C. seaplane crash released

TSB releases report on seaplane crash during a water landing in 2016 near First Nations community

Most Read