Boys charged after Merchants Hotel fire, string of arson incidents

Winnipeg police have arrested two boys — one 12 the other 13 — after the old Merchants Hotel went up in flames Friday night and three other fires were set in the city.

Kids, 12 and 13, responsible for 4 fires over the weekend, police allege

Two boys, 12 and 13, lit four fires this weekend, police say, including a small fire on the third floor of the old Merchants Hotel on Selkirk Avenue. (Tanner Grywinski/CBC)

Winnipeg police have arrested two boys — one 12, the other 13 — after the old Merchants Hotel went up in flames Friday night.

The same pair of boys is accused of setting three other fires in the city's North End.

On Monday, police said the boys ignited a small fire on the third floor of the historic three-storey building on Selkirk Avenue Friday around 9:30 p.m.

Both of the boys charged have been released on a promise to appear in court.

The first fire happened early Friday morning, at 1 a.m., in a garbage and recycling bin on the 600 block of Magnus Avenue. The bin was not badly damaged despite the heat.

Later that night, police said the boys are accused of setting the fire at the old Merchants Hotel.

Jim Silver, chair of urban and inner-city studies at the University of Winnipeg, has been involved in the transformation of the hotel for years.

The building was previously a magnet for trouble and violence but is now being converted into an affordable housing complex, which will double as a university classroom and community centre.

Silver said he received a call around 11 p.m. on Friday that the building was on fire.

"I jumped in my car and raced over there as fast as I could with image in my mind of flames 40 feet in the air and the building disintegrating but happily that wasn't the case," he said.

When he arrived firefighters were outside the building and the flames had already been quashed.

"[There is] very, very minimal damage, a few beams will have to be replaced," he said. "There are not words to describe how relieved I am."

The 100-year-old building is being renovated into affordable housing, education centre and community centre. (CBC)

Silver said he has been informed the fire will have no impact on the construction timeline and they are expecting to move in by December.

He added that they are considering getting more security measures for the site. 

On Sunday afternoon, a trailer was set on fire on the 700 block of Burrows Avenue and an hour later, set part of a play structure at King Edward Community School.

A pole that supports the playground slide was slightly damaged.

No one was hurt in any of the fires.