December 11, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
A suspected arson caused over a quarter-million-dollars worth of damage, destroyed three houses and, in unconfirmed reports, ended up uncovering a 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 as they took stock of the damage hours later while investigators from the Office of the Fire Commissioner for Manitoba combed the scene.
The fire started in a garage and quickly spread to three garages and three houses in the 500 block of Home Street. The worst hit was the two-storey brick house at 504 Home, and the two-storey wooden home next door at 498 Home was also heavily damaged. The alleged grow-op was at 510 Home, the only house with yellow police tape around it Saturday.
No injuries were reported.
When firefighters arrived at the scene at about 6 a.m., the three garages and the rear of three homes were already on fire.
It took two hours to bring the flames under control. Neighbours described a frightening wall of fire, with flames leaping two storeys high.
The sound of bangs some mistook for gunshots turned out to be the sounds of a car's gas tank exploding.
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, one of the homeowners whose house was torched by flames.
The fire engulfed the garage and home next door, he said, before it leaped into his back yard. From there, the flames razed his garage, melted his family's minivan 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.
Investigators weren't making statements at the scene, but more than one homeowner said they believed it was a random act of arson.
A man who identified himself as a roommate to the owner of most heavily damaged home was visibly furious as he examined the scene.
Pointing to some charred beams from the garage, he said investigators 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.
Two household cats were still missing Saturday.
"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."
Police would not confirm a grow-op at the scene yesterday but several neighbours reported it, saying they knew nothing about it until it was exposed by the fire.
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 with a dog in her arms and jumped into a car. She hadn't returned by Saturday afternoon, neighbours said.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 30, 2013 A3