'We feel like we're in a war zone': Neighbourhood fires worry Edmonton residents

Residents are calling for answers after a recent series of fires in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood.

After 5 recent fires in the Alberta Avenue area, some residents suspect arson

Liz John-West woke early Oct. 4 to her garage ablaze. Her family scrambled to get out of the house in case the fire spread. (Ariel Fournier/CBC)

Residents are calling for answers after a recent string of fires northeast of downtown Edmonton. 

Five separate properties were set ablaze in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, including a church, garage, dumpster and an abandoned home.

While the fire department is still investigating, residents said they suspect arson. 

The fires occurred Oct. 3 and Oct. 4. 

Resident Liz John-West awoke early Monday morning to see her two-storey barn-style garage engulfed in flames. 

"We just scrambled to put our clothes on and ran out," John-West told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active

The family's two vehicles were destroyed. 

LISTEN | Families describe recent fires in Alberta Avenue

"Tires popped, windows gone. Totally burnt," said John-West, who is running for city council. She said a neighbour has security footage showing someone walking up to her garage and leaving one minute before the fire started. 

Another serious weekend fire several blocks away was at the Bethel Gospel Church. At around 3 a.m. Sunday, the wheelchair accessible entrance went up in flames, cutting off electricity to half the building. 

While the church is still assessing damage, it managed to hold a service later that day. 

Church volunteer Frank Parker said he thinks the Bethel Gospel Church fire on Oct. 3 was accidental. (Ariel Fournier/CBC)

These are not the only recent fires in the area. 

In the early hours of Sept. 27, an infill development caught fire on 94th Street and 114th Avenue. An entire wall fell into Valda Roberts's yard, which adjoins the property. 

"That's what woke us up. The wall going 'Whomp' and shaking us out of bed," Roberts said. 

Roberts used a garden hose to protect her property in case the fire spread. 

She said it's the third time the neighbouring property has caught fire. She said she gave security footage of the most recent blaze to the fire department.

"We feel like we're in a war zone," she said. 

Roberts said she feels the neighbourhood is in the dark when it comes to information about the fires.

Valda Roberts awoke early Sept. 27 to a neighbouring infill development on fire. She said it's the third time the development has caught fire. (Ariel Fournier/CBC)

While the fires are still under investigation — which could take months to complete— Edmonton Fire Rescue Services confirmed the leading cause of fires in the neighbourhood is suspected arson. 

While the city said it has no plans to issue a news release about the fires, it said people can lower fire risks by removing materials that someone can use to start a fire, reporting suspicious people to police and illuminating building exteriors and entrances.

Since July, there have been at least 30 fires in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, according to data from the city.  The fire department said it recognizes fires are increasing in the area and is collaborating with emergency service partners to address the problem. 

Frank Parker, a volunteer at Bethel Gospel Church, said he doesn't think the church fire was targeted but rather accidental, as he regularly finds debris from people using drugs or camping on the property. 

There are no reported injuries from the recent fires.


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