A West Kelowna, B.C. man accused of intentionally starting a fire has been arrested a second time and is now facing a single charge of arson, according to police.
West Kelowna RCMP officers were dispatched to the 3000 block of Weber Road on July 10, around 8:30 p.m. Neighbours who called the police said they had extinguished a hillside fire in the area.
Video posted to the “Kelowna Alert” Facebook page on July 11 shows a shirtless man carrying what looks like a flaming torch, bending down and intentionally setting fire to the bushes in the Glenrosa neighborhood area.
The original post on the Facebook page stated "My neighbour saw him in the bushes behind his house and thought it was weird so he started recording him. Would have been much worse if it wasn’t for the quick response of all the neighbours with fire extinguishers."
On July 12, police said that witnesses had told them that they observed a man lighting a fire in the neighbourhood, and were also able to identify his truck. After a quick investigation, police findings were sent to the B.C Prosecution Service and a charge of arson was approved.
Suspect Stephen Leader, 36, was first taken into custody with no charges and later released. This morning a warrant was issued and he is currently in custody. He will appear in court on July 29.
Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart has written a letter to B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth calling for suspects arrested on serious allegations of arson to be held in custody until the charge assessment is complete.
“It’s bad enough when they (wildfires) are caused by thunderstorms and lightning, but it is even more upsetting when it’s caused by negligence or stupidity…and it’s completely outrageous when it appears people are deliberately trying to start fires.”
Stewart said there needs to be a balance between the right to be presumed innocent before proven guilty and public safety, “but I also believe the public has right to be protected from serious criminal conduct… especially where the evidence is so compelling, and the potential consequence to law-abiding citizens is so severe.” he said.
“I was astonished that person was then released back into the community,” Stewart's letter to Farnworth read.
B.C. is currently under a state of emergency because of the wildfires in the province. Although early in the season, over 300,000 hectares have already been burnt this year, with an annual average of 100,000 hectares.