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Snuff lighter sales to kids?

Councillor puts out idea just before string of fires

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A fire at the rear of a house on Pritchard Avenue was one of several that were lit over a one-hour period early Thursday.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A fire at the rear of a house on Pritchard Avenue was one of several that were lit over a one-hour period early Thursday. Photo Store

A city's councillor suggestion to fight arson by banning the sale of lighters to minors is sparking debate.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck floated her idea Wednesday on Twitter and Facebook.

"It prompted a lot of discussion, which I thought was great," Havixbeck said. "Lots of people just said no, no, no... but a lot of other people had suggestions and significant comments related to parenting, and they delved into some deeper issues about what kids are doing with their time.

"It's a good discussion, I think."

Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said she first put out the question Wednesday night on Twitter -- before Thursday morning's suspicious fires in the North End -- and repeated it on her Facebook page.

Police are investigating a series of early-morning fires Thursday on Pritchard, Manitoba and Alfred avenues that occurred within a one-hour period.

Havixbeck is a frequent user of social media, often putting questions out either via Twitter or on her Facebook account. "For awhile, I had a question of the week on Facebook. Sometimes, you get interesting responses and sometimes nobody's paying attention. This one struck an interest."

Havixbeck said the lighter question was prompted by a comment from police that 90 per cent of arsons are started with lighters.

Banning the sale of lighters to minors would only be a short-term fix, Havixbeck acknowledged, adding Winnipeg has struggled with an arson problem for 20 years.

Keeping youth engaged in positive activities during long, hot summers, she said, is part of the solution.

"What are kids, who are starting these fires, engaged with or could be engaged with, instead of committing these crimes?" Havixbeck said. "Are community centres open and accessible and are there programs going on? Could the schools be opened -- these nice, air-conditioned places where kids could play basketball or some other sport to keep themselves busy instead of getting into this kind of trouble?"

Havixbeck said many people who responded to her question put the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of parents. "Some were quite hard on parents, saying parents need to have a more active role with their kids and what they're doing," she said.

"It's not just about getting lighters out of kids' hands; it's about much, much more."

Firefighters, numerous fire trucks and police converged on the 700 block of Pritchard beginning at 2 a.m. Thursday.

Damage to one home's garage and contents from a fire was estimated at $40,000 while fire damage to properties on either side of the garage and to a hydro pole was estimated at $8,500.

While firefighters got those under control, others responded to a house fire in the 800 block of Pritchard at 2:29 a.m. Damage to that home was estimated at $150,000.

Another fire at 2:45 a.m. involved a fence in the 900 block of Manitoba with damage estimated at $2,000.

At 3 a.m., a fire to a couch in the back alley in the 800-block of Alfred was extinguished with no damage estimate available.

A resident in the area said there were "police driving around and it does appear they're looking for someone. I do not know if it's arson, but more than one fire in a small area going on at the same time is too many for comfort."

There were no injuries reported.

The arson strike force is investigating the fires.

Anyone with information regarding these incidents is asked to contact investigators at 204-986-6813 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

 

-- with files from Ashley Prest

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2013 B1

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Updated on Friday, August 23, 2013 at 6:50 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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