East Elmwood CC fire was arson: officials

A $2-million fire early Wednesday at the East Elmwood Community Centre was deliberately set, fire officials say.
A fire March 9 at Winnipeg's East Elmwood Community Centre was deliberately set. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

A $2-million fire early Wednesday at the East Elmwood Community Centre was arson, fire officials say.

Bill Clark, deputy chief of operations for the Winnipeg Fire Department, told CBC News on Thursday investigators have determined the fire that destroyed the building was deliberately set.

"The investigation has determined that the fire originated as a result of direct flame contact to light combustibles by a person or persons unknown," said Clark.

The blaze, now estimated to have caused $2-million in total loss damage, displaced a daycare.

It also forced several residents from their homes.

The matter is now in the hands of police.

Firefighters battled for seven hours Wednesday to extinguish the blaze that initially raged out of control and then stubbornly refused to go out — flaring up again even after having five hours' worth of water poured into it.

The fire in the centre, at 927 Beach Ave., was first spotted by a passing police officer just after 4 a.m. Wednesday.

The centre's president Eugene Beaucage said he can't understand why someone would purposely set fire to the local community club. "Hopefully we can find out why this was done," he said. "They are hurting everybody in this community ... it hurts, big time."

Other community clubs have offered to provide programming following the destruction of the facility, and 40 families who relied on the daycare are also looking for somewhere else to go.

Mayor Sam Katz said he's committed to seeing a new community centre built in the area.

"How much a new facility would cost, or how much insurance there is ... to me that's really not the issue," he said. "The issue is there's a need, and our job is to fill that need."

Katz says the first step is to find a space to hold programs and after that the Greater Council of Winnipeg Community Centres will consult with people in the neighbourhood. The council will decide what type of facility should be built, and where it should go.