Fires spark backlane patrols in Winnipeg

Mayor Sam Katz has ordered firefighters to patrol backlanes looking for flammable material following three more suspicious fires in Winnipeg overnight.
A fire in Winnipeg's West End destroyed a garage and its contents, including two vehicles. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Mayor Sam Katz has ordered firefighters to patrol backlanes looking for flammable material following three more suspicious fires in Winnipeg overnight.

"We always have arson," Katz said Wednesday. "It exists all the time, but [not] to the extent that is right now, just way beyond the level we've had in probably 12 years or more. We need to address these issues."

Voices of concern

About 250 St. James residents crowded the Sturgeon Heights Community Centre Tuesday night to discuss the recent spate of arsons.

The common-sense tips offered by fire officials at the meeting were useful, area resident Rick Siebert said, but he added the private sector should offer up cash rewards, as Crimestoppers does, for tips from the public.

"People talk and this way there might be initiative — somebody might come forward and say something, and that may lead to an arrest," he said.

Bill Clark, deputy chief of the Winnipeg Fire Department, said residents need to help each other, as well as assist firefighters and police.

"This is about a social contract that we have with everyone," he said. "It's about, 'We've got to look after each other.' We [firefighters] are all paid to do this stuff, but we need their help as much as they need ours."

The mayor has also ordered the water and waste and works departments to pick up items firebugs might find tempting within 48 hours.

There were no injuries in the most recent fires, which are being investigated by the city's arson strike force, but one of them cost a West End family not only their shed but their livelihood.

Emergency crews were called to 1274 Dominion St. at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. The fire ripped through a double garage at the rear of the house, destroying it and its contents.

"The fire could have spread to our house and you know, my children are in there, my wife … my whole family could've died," said homeowner Chris Dale.

No one was hurt but Dale, who runs his own landscaping company, said his livelihood has also taken a hit because all of his landscaping equipment was also lost.

As well, his wife operates a daycare service out of the home but with the backyard a charred mess, they can't take in any kids at the moment.

Damage is estimated to be in excess of $75,000.

The second fire broke out just before 1:30 a.m. at a residence in the 2200 block of Burrows Avenue. The homeowner noticed the fire and extinguished it quickly, keeping the damage to an estimated $200.

Then just before 5 a.m. a fire broke out at a shed at a City of Winnipeg yards area. Damage to the shed at Plessis Road and Ravelston Avenue West as well as its contents is estimated at $20,000.

The arson strike force is investigating all of the fires.