Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Witnesses describe massive flames as West End fire damages three homes
A suspected arson caused over a quarter million dollars worth of damage, destroyed three households and, in unconfirmed reports, ended up uncovering a concealed marijuana grow-op in the west end Saturday.
Residents from the two homes with the heaviest damage described flames that lit up the skies on Home Street shortly after 5:30 a.m.
They were visibly distraught and taking stock of the damage hours later as investigators from the Office of the Fire Commissioner for Manitoba combed the scene Saturday.
Arson is suspected in a garage fire that spread to three garages and three houses in the 500 block of Home Street, causing $300,000 worth of damage, police and fire officials said. The worst hit was a two-storey brick house at 504 Home and the two-storey wooden home next door at 498 Home. The grow-op was identified at 510 Home, the only house with yellow police tape around it Saturday.
No injuries were reported, authorities said.
Firefighters were called to Home Street about 6 a.m. where they found the three garages and the rear of three homes on fire. The metal frame of a small sedan poked from underneath charred beams in the back lane, and the interior of mini-van next door had melted in the searing flames.
It took two hours to bring the flames under control. Neighhours described a frightening wall of fire, with flames leaping two storeys high.
The sound of bangs that some initially mistook for gunshots later turned out to be the sounds of a car gas tank exploding in the fire.
An anonymous good Samaritan was credited for being the first to spot the fire and pound on the doors to get people outside while another neighbour dialed 911.
"You hear about this kind of stuff happening all over the city, but it’s a different experience when you’re experiencing it yourself. It’s pretty frightening," said Bassam Hozaima.
The fire engulfed the garage next door, he said, then spread to the rear of the house. Then it leaped into his back yard. From there the flames razed his garage, melted his family’s mini-van and destroyed the back porch.
He was home alone, his wife and three daughters away at the family cabin.
"I haven’t even been able to reach my wife yet to tell her," Hozaima said.
The ferocity of the fire was the scariest thing of all, he said. "It was really fast. There are one, two, three houses that got damaged. We’re lucky the fire department came when it did or it would have spread further," he said.
Arson investigators weren’t making statements Saturday at the scene but more than one homeowner said they believed the fire was a random act of violence.
That explanation didn’t make it easier to accept the destruction.
A man who identified himself as a roommate to the owner of the house with the most damage was visibly furious as he examined the wreckage.
Pointing to some charred beams from the garage, he said investigators had told him that spot was the likely source of the blaze.
He said he heard the sound of the fire, woke up his roommate and they ran for their lives.
The two household cats were still missing Saturday.
Then the man erupted with anger. Random or not, the fire could have killed people, he said.
"This is an attempted murder," he said. "It’s sadistic... I hope they get him, catch him. It’s insane. All these old wooden houses are so close together."
Meanwhile, police were observed toting bags into the third house at 510 Home that neighbours identified as the grow-op.
Police would not confirm a grow-op at the scene yesterday but several neighbours reported it, saying they knew nothing about it until the fire exposed it.
The good Samaritan pounded on the door to that house, too. One neighbour reported a woman answered the banging, saw the flames and ducked back inside. She emerged seconds later, a dog in her arms and jumped in a car. She hadn’t returned by Saturday afternoon, neighbours said.
Updated on Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 12:32 PM CDT: Damages added
12:34 PM: Edited, updated story.
1:46 PM: Added police contact info
3:09 PM: Photo added
3:20 PM: Fixed headline
3:22 PM: Fixed cutline.
3:24 PM: Fixed cutline
3:27 PM: Fix cutline.
3:34 PM: Minor update.
5:12 PM: updates with complete writethru.
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