Edmonton Journal

Inglewood, Westmount residents fear a possible arsonist

- OTIENA ELLWAND oellwand@edmontonjo­urnal. com Twitter.com/otiena

A recent spate of suspicious fires in Westmount and Inglewood has residents worried about a possible arsonist.

Rick Harcourt was making dinner in early January when he noticed his neighbour waving and yelling at him through a window that his camper van was on fire.

“It was fully engulfed. There were flames coming up both sides of it,” he said.

The fire destroyed the camper van and melted the siding on his garage in the back alley behind 123rd Street near 109th Avenue. He estimates the damage to be about $60,000 to $70,000.

“It just kind of freaks you out. You just sort of go, ‘What the heck is happening? It doesn’t feel that safe,’ ” he said.

The fire was ruled an arson by his insurance company, but the cause was considered undetermin­ed by the fire department, Harcourt said.

“The fire investigat­or also said to me, ‘Listen, things like this don’t just go up on their own. Something had to start it,’ ” Harcourt said.

Russell Croome, deputy chief of public safety with Edmonton Fire Rescue, said there have been about 15 fires involving garbage, refuge, vehicles and fences in these two inner-city neighbourh­oods over the past few months.

Croome said the number of fires is “above the norm for sure” and has caught the attention of fire and police officials.

But Harcourt wonders if enough resources are being allocated to deal with the issue.

“It’s just kind of tough when you have a city on fire,” he said.

He hopes to make people aware of what’s going on in the community, so people will look out for anything suspicious and put a stop to it.

Once the fires are deemed suspicious, Croome said they’re turned over to the Edmonton Police Service’s two-person arson unit.

“Not all of them will be arson, it’s just a lot of them are suspicious,” Croome said. “Until we know the cause, it stays undetermin­ed.”

Edmonton police spokesman Scott Pattison said most of the fires have occurred since December in back alleys along the 124th street corridor, between 107th Avenue and 118th Avenue.

While the fires are in the same area, the fires have not been linked to one another or to any suspect, he said.

“It’s a big city, these things happen all over in pockets. Do fire investigat­ors believe at this particular time that we’ve got a fire bug running around? I don’t know that they’ve come to that conclusion ... (But) they’re certainly not ruling that out,” Pattison said.

Residents are encouraged to remove fuel and ignition sources, as well as rubbish, organic material and constructi­on debris. Croome said residents should make sure vacant vehicles, sheds and garages are locked and any fires should be reported immediatel­y. A few weeks after the blaze in Harcourt’s backyard, he saw an other garage in the neighbourh­ood had been damaged by fire as well.

“Overall, it’s a very safe neighbourh­ood with an incredibly strong community feel, and we know our neighbours up and down the street. It kind of goes contrary to what it’s like to live in Westmount normally.”

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