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

Greyhound cleared to end routes in northern B.C., Vancouver Island

Company says nine routes have dropped 30% in ridership in last five years

BC BUDGET: New spaces a step to universal child care

Fees reduced for licensed daycare operators

BC BUDGET: NDP cracks down on speculators, hidden ownership

Foreign buyers’ tax extended to Fraser Valley, Okanagan, Vancouver Island

BC BUDGET: Payroll tax replaces medical premiums

Health spending to increase $1.5 billion for drugs, primary care teams

B.C. freestyle skier wins gold

Cassie Sharpe of Comox shines in the halfpipe

President praises nearly 1,800 volunteers at B.C. Games

Ashley Wadhwani sits down with the Kamloops 2018 B.C. Winter Games President Niki Remesz

The way government learn someone has died is getting a digital overhaul

Governments in Canada turned to private consultants 2 years ago to offer blueprint

Bobsleigh team misses Olympic medal finish

Canadian team finishes four-man event 0.84 seconds behind first place, 0.31 seconds from podium

B.C. Games: Athletes talk Team Canada at PyeongChang 2018

From Andi Naudie to Evan McEachran there’s an Olympian for every athlete to look up to

Snowboarders sliding into fresh territory at B.C. Games

Athletes hit the slopes for first appearance as an event at the B.C. Winter Games in Kamloops

Cariboo woman raises funds for Seizure Investigation Unit beds at VGH

VGH Foundation gets VCH approval to begin fundraising for SIU beds; local efforts are paying off

Looking back at the 1979 B.C. Games: Good memories, even better jackets

39 years later, Kamloops is hosting the Winter Games again, with some volunteers returning

OLYMPICS 101: Oldest and youngest Canadians to reach the podium

This year, Canada sent its most athletes in Winter Games history, here’s a look at record breakers

BCHL Today: Cowichan Caps play spoiler and Nanaimo wins 10th straight game

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Most Read