‘Still a little shaken’ after arson
Homeowner wonders if pair who set vehicles ablaze had wrong house
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Braden Hopkins was in a deep sleep when he and his wife were awakened by strangers banging on their bedroom window and front door at 4 a.m. Monday.
When they opened the door, the startled parents saw the orange glow of a raging fire that had been deliberately set by someone who doused their vehicles with a liquid accelerant.
“The guy at the door was saying, ‘Fire! Fire! Your garage is on fire!’” Hopkins told the Free Press Tuesday. “We have (three kids). We had to get them out as quickly and safely as possible.”
The 31 year old, who lives in the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews just north of Winnipeg, doesn’t know why the family’s vehicles were set on fire.
There was no reason for the family to be targeted, he said.
“We’re still a little shaken up and a little confused as to the whole situation and why it happened,” said Hopkins. “I’m thankful no one was actually hurt.”
RCMP officers told him it was a random act of arson. Hopkins wonders whether the suspects had the wrong house.
The arson attack on Liss Road was recorded by a surveillance camera mounted to the family’s detached garage.
Footage showed a hooded person dumping two cups of liquid on the vehicles — a Ford Fusion and a Ford Explorer — parked in the gravel driveway at 3 a.m.
The person used a lighter to start a fire next to the Explorer, while a second suspect appeared to record video on a mobile phone, said Hopkins.
An attempt to ignite accelerant that was splashed on the roof of the Fusion wasn’t successful.
About a minute after appearing on camera, the suspects calmly walked toward the road while a small fire burned on the ground between the vehicles.
The second suspect carried the cups as the pair disappeared into the darkness.
RCMP said the suspects were travelling in a truck.
Hopkins didn’t recognize the pair in the video.
By the time he and his wife were awakened by banging an hour later, the blaze had spread and engulfed the Fusion, which was a few metres from the house.
Hopkins said they grabbed their children — a one-year-old daughter and two sons, ages four and 10 — and escaped without knowing the extent of the blaze nor how it started.
As they moved away from the house and waited for police and firefighters to arrive, Hopkins phoned his neighbour Dave Totin, a retired fire captain, to let him know about the situation.
Totin was asleep when he got the call.
When Hopkins confirmed the car was close to the garage, Totin threw on some clothes and drove over to help.
Totin used a tow rope, with one end attached to his truck, to drag the burning car away from the garage and prevent the flames from spreading.
The car’s gas tank exploded a short time later.
“We got it away from the structure probably about a minute before the rest of the gas tank ignited,” said Totin.
“It sent a fireball about 50 feet in the air,” said Hopkins. “It was like straight out of a movie.”
Totin said his wife, who was standing in their sunroom, about 65 yards away, felt the heat from the fireball.
It was around that time the Hopkins discovered the fire had been deliberately set.
Hopkins’ wife, who was near the side of the road with her children, used her smartphone to review the surveillance video.
Totin checked the garage to find out if the flames had spread and if anyone was inside. He also phoned his wife to ensure their doors were locked.
“I feel bad for the family. It’s a total random act,” he said. “I know them. I know there’s no issues as to why it happened. In the area we live in, you wouldn’t expect anything like that to happen.”
Hopkins was grateful for the three Good Samaritans who woke up the couple and helped the family escape.
He doesn’t know who they are. He didn’t get a chance to speak to them because they left the scene before the situation calmed down.
“I’m grateful they were passing by at that time,” said Hopkins. “I’d just like to say thank you. It could have been a lot worse if they weren’t there to alert us and wake us up.”
The family praised Totin for his quick action, and the RCMP and St. Andrews Fire Department for arriving quickly.
The Fusion was destroyed and the Explorer will require repairs, said Hopkins.
The house and three-car garage suffered some damage.
Hopkins and his wife are going through vehicle and home insurance processes while they continue to recover from the shock of the ordeal.
Their deductibles will set them back $3,000.
The Hopkinses, who commute to and from work, are borrowing a truck from a family member. Without loss-of-use coverage, they will have to pay to rent a second vehicle.
No one had been arrested as of Tuesday afternoon, said RCMP Cpl. Julie Courchaine.
“We aren’t able to say at this time why the home was targeted, and the investigation is ongoing,” she wrote in an email.
Police are asking anyone with information about the suspects to call Selkirk RCMP at 204-482-1222 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, May 9, 2023 2:01 PM CDT: Headline changed.