Winnipeg arson cases double in July

Winnipeg has seen a dramatic rise in the number of arson cases in July, double the number in the same month last year.

$200,000 in damage to Sturgeon Creek Community Centre

Building materials were set on fire in the Sturgeon Heights Community Centre in the St. James area of Winnipeg. (CBC)

Winnipeg has seen a dramatic rise in the number of arson cases in July, double the number in the same month last year.

Police say there were 78 arsons in the Manitoba capital in July compared with 39 in July last year.

Last week police announced the arrest of 20-year-old Brandon Sutyla after he allegedly lit a fire in suburban Fort Garry. Sutyla is charged with 18 counts of arson to property and two counts of arson with disregard to human life for fires from May 1 to Aug. 2 of this year.

Meantime, three fires in St. James early Wednesday have been deemed suspicious and are under investigation, officials say. That follows several other fires in St. James-Assiniboia in the past few days.

Crews were first called to Sturgeon Heights Community Centre at 210 Rita Street around 4:20 a.m. The building is being renovated and equipment stacked inside was set on fire.

Barry Chambers, facility manager at the centre, said the damage was contained to the building's insulation but because it is LEED-certified, an internationally recognized green standard, repairs could be $200,000.

Chambers said security camera footage from the centre would be reviewed.

"Hopefully we can ID somebody," he said, adding the centre was set to open October 1.

A fire destroyed a garage and three vehicles near Thompson Drive and Nightingale Road in Winnipeg. ((CBC))

Moments later there was a report of a fire at Thompson Drive and Portage Avenue, where a dumpster had been set alight.

Firefighters were called half an hour later to yet another fire at Thompson Drive and Nightingale Road. The blaze destroyed a garage along with three vehicles and two snowmobiles. The damage is estimated at $100,000.

"The roof is nothing but burned-out charred sticks," CBC reporter Meaghan Ketcheson said from the scene.

The owner of the garage, Harold Ireland, said a neighbour banged on his door Tuesday morning and told him about the fire.

"My wife woke up and she went over to the window and I ran out and tried to put it out with a garden hose but there's not enough water," he said.

Residents worried

These fires come just a day after another suspicious blaze  destroyed a nearby townhouse, causing more than $600,000 in damages.

Winnipeg has seen a string of fires this summer, including three over the weekend and blaze at a rooming house in July that killed 5 people.

CBC reporter Majorie Dowhos said many in the St. James area felt alarmed at the rash of recent fires.

One homeowner who has lived nearby for 40 years, Frederick Maher, said he has never seen crime so bad.

City Coun. Scott Fielding said police are stepping up patrols in the area.

He also said he is trying to set up a community meeting, along with fire officials, to discuss the recent arson cases.

This follows similar moves in Fort Rouge where residents held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss the spate of arsons. Police and fire officials gave people tips on how to protect themselves and their properties.