This photo of a house fire Wednesday night in Parksville at the intersection of Pym and Soriel was taken just minutes after the fire department arrived at the scene.

This photo of a house fire Wednesday night in Parksville at the intersection of Pym and Soriel was taken just minutes after the fire department arrived at the scene.

Parksville house fire spurs larger debate

The house was subject of 'unsightly property' complaints from neighbours

There were no injuries when a house fire lit the night in a Parksville neighbourhood last week.

Firefighters were called to the scene at Pym and Soriel at 7:22 p.m. Wednesday. One person was at home during the fire, called in the emergency and got out safely, said Parksville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Doug Banks. The chief said the fire is still under investigation but seemed to have started in the garage before involving an RV on the property and the front porch.

The house has been the subject of complaints from neighbours in the past.

“I tried to declare the place a fire hazard because of all the junk,” said neighbour Al Bryans. “It was just one hell of a mess but we couldn’t get anything done.”

Mayor Marc Lefebvre confirmed the city had received complaints about the residence.

“Yes, I was certainly aware of this,” said the mayor. “I had been to see the neighbours a couple of times.”

Lefebvre said the city had issued an order, in writing, to the owner, “to clean the place up,” after which “there was a fairly decent clean-up undertaken” that was “more or less satisfactory.”

Lefebvre agreed the house was “very unsightly.” He also said although he’s not “technically qualified,” he agreed the house could have been a fire hazard.

The city will respond to complaints from residents about unsightly properties and, if not enough is done to clean up a property, bring the matter to council, which can empower staff to send a letter ordering a clean-up within 30 days. If that doesn’t happen, the city can do the work itself and present the bill to the owner.

Lefebvre said there are property rights issues involved and, in some cases, mental health challenges that reach well beyond the purview of city staff.

Chief Banks also said his department just can’t declare some residence a fire hazard and take unilateral action.

“We’re very limited as to what we can do, if anything,” said Banks. “We don’t have that authority.”

“It’s something as a mayor I find extremely frustrating,” said Lefebvre. “The frustration comes from the number of hoops you have to jump through to legally get people to do something.”

Lefebvre said he is going to ask staff to come up with a report, within the next month or two, on what can be done, if anything, to give local laws more teeth.

“We’re going to be looking at the bylaws in regards to unsightly properties,” said the mayor.

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