Serial arsonist has been active in Vanier for a year now
Ottawa police arson unit looking into 11 fires possibly linked to the same suspect
It happens early in the morning.
Someone walks up onto a front porch, the side of a house or into a garage in Vanier, and sets whatever full recycling box they can find on fire. Sometimes the fire spreads, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, and other times the flames are quelled before that can happen.
There have been nine such incidents in Vanier to date, with the first three occurring the same night one year ago.
Two others — the most recent — could be linked, but Ottawa police arson investigators aren't sure because they're a little different.
In some instances the affected homes were vacant. Other times the residents sleeping inside were forced to flee.
At least 12 people have been displaced from their homes due to the damage, but thankfully no one has been injured.
In total, the fires have caused an estimated $1.56 million in damage.
'Confined to a very, very limited geographical area'
Ottawa police Sgt. David Christie leads the arson unit, and said in an interview Wednesday they're still hoping for a break in the case.
Police have received some tips from the public, but none of them has led to a viable suspect so far.
"I think it really could be anybody. It's just someone that for whatever reason has decided that setting fires in this manner — I don't know if they find it exciting or whatever their rationale or motivation is. But again, I'm confident it's a matter of time. We'll get the break that we're looking for and then we'll catch this person," Christie said.
In the meantime, police have stepped up patrols in the area and are asking people living in Vanier to be on the lookout for suspicious behaviour in the wee hours of the morning.
Firefighters are asking residents to move recycling bins and garbage containers away from garages, porches, decks and the sides of homes, and to clean up any garbage they may have lying around.
We've had some minor, small clusters of fires here and there, but nothing with this significance.- Sgt. David Christie, Ottawa police arson unit
"All the fires are similar in nature in that an unknown suspect is entering onto property and igniting recycle boxes. Those are usually on front porches or adjacent to the house or sometimes in enclosed spaces that are used to store the recycle boxes or the garbage … and they're all confined to a very, very limited geographical area in Vanier," Christie said.
Christie has been with the arson unit for eight years, and said he can't recall any string of cases as serious as these.
"We've had some minor, small clusters of fires here and there, but nothing with this significance … and especially being confined to such a small area and spread out over a significant time period," he said.
Aug. 15, 2016
Three separate fires were started within an hour of each other.
The first happened in a detached garage at 293 Cyr Ave. at 12:29 a.m., the second in a dumpster on the next street over at 301 Savard Ave. at 12:41 a.m., and the third in a house with an attached garage at 318 Palace St. at 1:28 a.m.
Both of the homes were unoccupied and one of them was for sale.
Damage on Cyr Avenue was estimated at about $25,000, and damage on Palace Street was estimated at about $20,000.
The dumpster fire didn't spread and damage was minimal.
Months later, three separate fires were set within a few hours of each other at 253 Deschamps Ave., 209 Ste Anne Ave. and 270 Montreal Rd. — at 12:10 a.m., 12:55 a.m. and 3:24 a.m., respectively.
The home on Deschamps Avenue was being extensively renovated at the time. Damage was estimated at about $250,000.
At the Ste Anne Avenue fire, crews had to rescue a man from the second-floor window. Five people were displaced. Damage was estimated at about $400,000.
The Montreal Road home was unoccupied and was being renovated at the time. Damage was estimated at about $5,000.
May 20, 2017
A home at 278 Shakespeare St. was badly damaged by a fire at 12:46 a.m.
Two people were home at the time but got out safely. In all, four people were displaced.
Damage was estimated at about $400,000.
June 4, 2017
A home at 309 Montfort St. was badly damaged by a fire at 2:50 a.m.
Someone was home at the time but got out safely. Three people were displaced in total.
Damage was estimated at about $450,000.
Aug. 4, 2017
A home at 261 Montfort St. was damaged by fire at 3:04 a.m.
People were inside at the time but managed to get out safely.
Damage was estimated at about $10,000.
Aug. 5, 2017
Early in the morning, a wooden stairway at 227 Granville St. was damaged by a cloth that was set on fire.
Damage was minimal and the incident was not reported to police or firefighters.
Aug. 8, 2017
At about 1:22 a.m., a fence at 227 Granville St. was set on fire.
Damage was minimal.
Investigators aren't sure whether the two Granville fires are connected to the other arsons. There were recycling boxes nearby that were untouched.
But because the two fires happened in the same geographical area, police aren't discounting the possibility they could be the work of the same serial arsonist.