Vandals burned a hole in the platform at the top of the Somenos Marsh Open Air Classroom early on the morning of Thursday, April 22. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Vandals burned a hole in the platform at the top of the Somenos Marsh Open Air Classroom early on the morning of Thursday, April 22. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Arson closes Somenos Marsh viewing platform

Fletcher estimates the damage at more than $5,000.

Volunteers are used to finding evidence of vandalism at the Somenos Marsh Open Air Classroom. There are incidents every week, according to Paul Fletcher, president of the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society.

But a fire that burned a hole right through the platform at the top of the viewing tower early on the morning of Thursday, April 22 — Earth Day — is the worst yet.

“We’ve been having ongoing damage,” Fletcher said. “It’s pretty regular — once a week. This is the most serious we’ve ever had.”

The culprits kicked out wooden railings in the lower part of the tower structure and carried them to the top of the tower where they started a fire with the railings and some garbage. An RCMP officer happened to be driving by early in his shift on Thursday and spotted flames at the top of the tower. He rushed up, caught the culprits in the act and put the fire out. By then, however, the fire had burned through the viewing platform and into the heavy cedar beams underneath.

“We’re extremely thankful [to the officer],” Fletcher said. “We could have lost the whole tower, maybe.”

The tower is closed to the public

The tower was completed in the fall of 2019. It cost about $75,000 to build, helped out by donations from David Coulson Design, Mosaic Forest Management and Canadian Bavarian Lumber, among many others.

“It was community-built and community-fundraised,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher estimates the damage at more than $5,000. Additionally, the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society had just recently finished restoring the area that was used by contractors to access the site during construction.

“We’ve had minor fires before. Very minor,” Fletcher commented. “But enough that we were planning on replacing boards. Even then, the way its assembled, that would be a major effort.”

READ MORE: Somenos Marsh viewing tower near completion

READ MORE: Shovels ready to go in the ground for new viewing platform at Cowichan’s Somenos Marsh

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