Winnipeg begins anti-arson program

Winnipeg has launched a program in a bid to reduce the rising number of arson attacks in the city.
Building materials, like those set ablaze in the Sturgeon Heights Community Centre last week, are a prime target for thrill-seeking arsonists, officials say. (CBC)

Winnipeg has launched a program in a bid to reduce the rising number of arson attacks in the city.

Members of the Winnipeg Fire Department have begun checking the city's backlanes in search of flammable material and handing out brochures offering fire safety tips to homeowners.

Marc Proulx, public education co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Fire Department, hopes property owners will spot potential problems, like this garbage container pushed too close to a home. ((Mychaylo Prystupa/CBC))
They are also offering a checklist they say will reduce the risk of an arson attack:
  • Use motion-activated lights to brighten the outside of your home or garage.
  • Keep shrubs and trees near buildings trimmed. They can be a source of fuel and a hiding spot.
  • Store flammable material safely. Garbage, leaves, lumber and bulky waste such as mattresses or couches should be disposed of properly. Firewood should be kept well away from your house or garage.
  • Keep doors and windows secured. Don't use double-keyed locks or bars on bedroom windows that could trap a person during a fire.
  • Keep locks, hinges, frames, doors and windows in good repair. Check skylights, roof hatches, fences and gates regularly to ensure they are secured.
  • Be alert to any smoke or unusual odours.
  • Be alert to suspicious activity in your neighbourhood; watch for people carrying containers and strangers loitering in the area. If they are in cars, note the licence plate numbers.
  • Don't put out garbage until collection day.
  • Make sure all smoke alarms are working and change the batteries every year. Test alarms monthly.
  • Develop and practise a home escape plan and review it with your family.

Using the first three tips listed above, CBC News surveyed 34 homes in a backlane in Fort Rouge, one of the hardest hit areas for arson, on Thursday and found:

  • Seventy per cent had flammable material nearby.
  • More than 70 per cent had had bushes and trees too close to buildings.  
  • More than 50 per cent did not have motion-activated lights to deter arsonists.

The informal CBC survey found some people had motion sensors but disabled them because they found them to be overly sensitive.

Others put their trust in a guard dogs.

"Yeah, big ones!" laughed Chelsea Cork.  

Marc Proulx, the public education co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Fire Department, said criticism is not the point of the exercise.

"Let's not be too harsh on the public, there's reasons why this stuff is in the back," he said. "What we're asking them to do is to help themselves by helping us."

Property owners who would like to have the city conduct an arson safety audit should call 311.  

With files from Mychaylo Prystupa