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Fire at Hazel Trembath Elementary was human caused: Coquitlam RCMP

"This was more than just a place of learning. It was a place of community. It’s been a devastating loss and it’s had a significant impact on numerous persons," said Insp. Darren Carr.

The day after School District 43 (SD43) held a virtual townhall on the rebuild of a Port Coquitlam school that burned down last fall, Mounties confirmed the fire was “human caused.”

Today, March 1, police said at a news conference that its criminal case will find out who lit the exterior of Hazel Trembath Elementary in the early morning hours on Oct. 14, 2023, causing it to burn to the ground and displacing hundreds of students.

The school was vacant at the time; no one was injured.

Insp. Darren Carr, the detachment’s acting superintendent, told reporters that fire officials and police have worked hard on the investigation to confirm what was suspected — "that the cause of the fire was human caused and it’s criminal in nature."

Over the past four months, he said, officers have taken 132 statements about the suspicious fire, canvassed 245 individual locations, reviewed hours of video and conducted 295 investigative tasks to determine what happened at the elementary school at 1278 Confederation Dr.

Carr said the loss of the school has been devastating to the 215 pupils, teachers and staff, who have since been temporarily relocated to Winslow Centre, as well as to area residents.

“This was more than just a place of learning,” he said. “It was a place of community. It’s been a devastating loss and it’s had a significant impact on numerous persons.”

Mayor's response

In a statement, Mayor Brad West, who attended the school as a child and whose eldest son is currently a student, voiced his thanks to the Port Coquitlam fire fighters and RCMP for their exhaustive work.

And he had a pointed message to the person(s) responsible for the fire.

"Do the right thing," West urged. "Come forward to police and provide closure to the hundreds of children and families who’ve been damaged by this unthinkable act."

Last night, Feb. 29, SD43’s Ivano Cecchini, executive director of facilities and planning services, told the virtual crowd at the townhall that B.C.’s ministry of education has asked the school district to provide three options for its business case to rebuild Hazel Trembath Elementary, which shares its property with Citadel Middle School:

  • a conventional construction for a new school on the Hazel Trembath site
  • detached prefabricated additions at nearby sites
  • a hybrid model (elements of both conventional and prefabricated construction on the Hazel Trembath site)

The following schools are within close distance to Hazel Trembath Elementary:

  • Mary Hill Elementary, 1.8 km
  • Kilmer Elementary, 1.8 km
  • Castle Park Elementary, 900 m
  • Central Community School, 2.6 km (currently full)

Board chair response

In a statement to the Tri-City News today, March 1, SD43 board chair Michael Thomas said the board of education was saddened to hear the RCMP conclusion that the fire was human caused and he reiterated the impact to the community.

"I implore those involved to come forward to help provide closure to our community," he wrote. "We thank the RCMP and Port Coquitlam fire department for their work on the investigation."

He added, "We know that a school is more than just a building; it is the heart of our community. Just as important is the people inside the building: Our teachers, administration and support staff continue to go above and beyond to support our students and families of Hazel. The school district has been working hard from day one for the students, staff and families of Hazel and make the best of a really hard situation. Winslow Centre, although not perfect, has provided students with the quality learning experience that our families expect."

As for the school rebuild, Thomas said the board's plan is to move ahead.

"We will be putting forward a strong case for rebuilding as we believe that this aligns with the expectations of our community and is in the best interest of our district to meet long-term enrolment needs. We are looking to the community for your support and have established a survey to gain community feedback that will be included in our reports to the ministry."


Anyone who may have witnessed anything suspicious around Hazel Trembath Elementary in Port Coquitlam in days leading up to the fire, or who may have been in the area just before the fire was started, is asked call Coquitlam RCMP at 604-945-1550 and quote file number 2023-27725.