1984 – House and shed are burned to reduce land assessment

Photo: Members of Yarmouth No. 2 Volunteer Fire Department hosed down a house after it was set ablaze by a Mount Brydges man who said he owned the property. Firefighters were on the scene until 4 p.m. and returned again at 6 and 9 p.m.

Apr. 18, 1984 – John Robinson of Mount Brydges, was fined $200 by Yarmouth Volunteer Fire Department last week after setting fire to his property at the southeast corner of Highway 3 and Elgin County Road 86 about one kilometre west of New Sarum. A vacant house and shed were razed.

He said “I’m being assessed for taxes and it cost me a quarter of a million dollars. I set the fire to stop paying taxes on the buildings. Now I only will have to pay land taxes.”

“All the buildings are vacant. They’ve been vandalized. They’ve broken windows, cut the copper wiring, plumbing and torn out the walls.”

The property contained vacant buildings that included a house, small barn, motel, mobile trailers and a restaurant.

In an interview with The Aylmer Express, Friday at the scene, he said that he was told by Yarmouth clerk-treasurer, Ken Sloan, that “we’ll stop taxes if you destroy the buildings.” There would be taxes only on the land. “I decided to set the fire.” He said the clerk “arranged everything with the fire department.”

“I’m the owner. There is no insurance and no one minded,” he added.

Mr. Robinson said the buildings were vacant about six years “and they’re being assessed as buildings in good shape.”

While fighting the fire, firefighters also hosed down a nearby barn belonging to Ed Dubyk. The barn contained hay and a pony. Mr. Dubyk said he was unaware of the fire until his dog started barking.

Mr. Dubyk said he was in his house and when he came out noticed black smoke, “That’s when I called the fire department.

Mr. Sloan, Yarmouth clerk-treasurer, said he spoke with Mr. Robinson and told him the township could not give permission to set fires. He told him there was a fine for wilfully setting fires if the fire department was needed to put them out. Permission to set fires must be obtained from the Ontario environment minister. Mr. Sloan notified the fire chief that the owner intended to set the fire.

Yarmouth fire chief, Keith Davis, said he was aware the man was thinking of setting a fire. “He notified me a month ago and I told him not to. He wanted me to light the fire and I told him no.” Mr. Davis said Friday was certainly not the day to do it.

Mr. Davis said his department was on the scene from about 1:30 p.m. until 4 p.m. and was called back at 6 and 9 p.m. Friday. He said the first call back was to extinguish sparks in the grass. The second time, trees near the house had caught fire and were extinguished.

He said the owner initially planned to burn all the buildings and “then when we were fighting the fire he wanted the trailers saved.” The chief added the department hosed down adjacent trailers to keep them from catching fire.

“He’ll be charged with arson if he burns them again,” the chief added.

Chief Davis said there were 15 of the 28 volunteer firefighters on the scene. He said his department used about 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water to fight the fire. The water came from the nearby St. Thomas Airport.