Arsonist handed 2-year sentence for north end fires

A Saint John man was sentenced to two years in jail on Monday, for setting fire to a derelict house in the city's north end four times in two months.

Jacob Jacquard says drugs, grudge behind string of arsons at 168 Main Street house

A Saint John man was sentenced to two years in jail on Monday, for setting fire to a derelict house in the city's north end four times between January and March.

Jacob Jacquard, 22, had pleaded guilty to the four fires at 168 Main St. — his first attempt on Jan. 11 involved Molotov cocktails.

Jacquard cited problems with drugs as the reason behind the string of arsons, as well as a grudge against someone he mistakenly identified as the building's owner.

Court documents show the owner is dead, and the building has passed into the family estate.

The case has some in the community asking what the city can do about abandoned buildings, and the danger they pose to those who live nearby.

Neighbours told CBC News they tell their children to stay away from the boarded up building because of the rusted nails, broken glass and rubble that surrounds the area.

More money set aside to monitor derelict buildings

Saint John Divisional Chief, Mark Wilson, said the fire department has "thorough systems in place" to make sure abandoned homes do not pose a hazard.

"One, to keep the building as secure as possible," he said. "We'll make note if there is still power going into the building. If there is, [we] make sure Saint John Energy is notified. If there's any propane still connected to the property … These are things that can affect the environment as well."

Wilson said outmigration isn't helping the city's challenges with vacant buildings.

"It doesn't have to be the heart of the lower west side, old north end, lower south end, where there are older type buildings. Some are in our actual subdivisions," said Wilson.

"People are basically walking away from a lot of these properties for financial reasons or whatever the case may be."

Saint John city council spent an additional $175,000 in 2013 to manage derelict buildings, said Ward 2 Coun. John MacKenzie.

"[That is] taking our budget for derelict buildings … to $476,000," he said. "So we're trying to resource it as much as we can."

"The process is that the building inspector will deem it a health hazard, or safety hazard. Barring that, if we can't get the owner to fix or tear it down, then we'll tear it down and the provincial government will reimburse our costs."

However, MacKenzie admits that even with the extra resources directed toward monitoring derelict buildings and enforcing its unsightly premises bylaw, the caseload is continuing to increase.

"On a number of fronts it's a problem, and one we're trying to deal with, but it's always going to be there," he said.

"Every time you tear one down, there's another on the list, so it's a big problem."

MacKenzie said economic development may go a long way toward helping to curb cases of arson.

"If we can get our economy back to where it should be, with projects coming up in the  near future, we'll get people in Saint John and we'll rebuild quicker than we are," he said.

"So I think it's an economic condition, it's the biggest thing."