Catalytic converter theft sparks car fire in Port Coquitlam

Coquitlam RCMP is looking for four suspects who were spotted leaving the fire scene on Riverside Drive in a dark, older-model sedan at around 3:30 a.m.

A fire that damaged two vehicles on the north side of Port Coquitlam Thursday morning may have been caused by thieves attempting to steal catalytic converters.

Jennifer Exter, who lives in the house adjacent to the fire, said she was awoken by several loud bangs and an orange flicker coming through her window. At first, she thought the noise was coming from the train yard down the road, but when she went into her bathroom, everything was glowing orange, she said. 

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"So I open the window and sure enough there are flames coming up like crazy," said Exter. "I yelled at my husband, called 911 and he ran outside with the garden hose out back."

By then, the flames were licking the large cedar next to the Exter house, so Jennifer's husband sprayed down the tree to keep the fire from spreading to the house. 

Other neighbours told The Tri-City News it took over an hour to put out the fire. 

Kate Lu, who lives across the street, said the fire kept her up all night.

"I was so scared that the fire would come over," she said from her home where she was taking the day off. "I was worried about the neighbours."

Coquitlam RCMP is looking for four suspects who were spotted leaving the fire scene on Riverside Drive in a dark, older-model sedan at around 3:30 a.m.

Based on witness statements and video evidence, Mounties said they believe that sparks from some kind of cutting tool may have started the blaze, which spread from one vehicle to another.

"[Catalytic converters] don't just come off in your hand," said Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Michael McLaughlin.

One of the suspects is described as a tall, lanky man with a grey hoodie who was wearing a headlamp.

McLaughlin said there has been a recent uptick in the number of stolen catalytic converters, with 11 reported so far this month. But he said it is too early to determine whether Thursday's incident is related to the recent spate of thefts.

"We do have catalytic converter thefts," he said. "We recently have seen an increase in that activity."

Thefts of catalytic converters have become increasingly common in recent years. In the past, Coquitlam RCMP has said thieves steal the emission-control devices because they are easy to remove and contain expensive metals, including platinum and copper.

But drivers can take some steps to protect their vehicles. Some muffler shops will weld extra metal to the exhaust system to make it difficult to remove the catalytic converter.

The devices can also be etched or engraved with a licence plate number that identifies the rightful owner should the item be recovered by police.

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