Suspicious fires damage warming huts at Forks

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THE Forks is reassessing its security after suspicious fires heavily damaged four river trail winter warming huts Thursday morning.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/09/2012 (3736 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE Forks is reassessing its security after suspicious fires heavily damaged four river trail winter warming huts Thursday morning.

“You can probably say that there’s the potential it was arson,” Forks vice-president of marketing and communications Clare MacKay said Thursday morning as she surveyed the smouldering ruins and charred embers of the Norwegian-built Windcatcher hut.

The four badly damaged huts each contained about $20,000 worth of materials, along with untold hours of care and labour.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner is investigating a blaze that damaged four warming huts Thursday.

They included Windcatcher, the University of Manitoba’s HotHut, Carcass (Sputnik Architecture in collaboration with artist Jonathon Pylypchuk) and Under the Covers (designed by a team from Philadelphia’s Temple University, led by Prof. Bob Trempe).

“It’s a bummer,” Trempe said by phone. “That’s terrible.”

Under the Covers looked like someone lifting a cover of snow and inviting visitors inside. Its wood frame supported an overhead dome, and inside it was peaceful with no wind. Now it’s been ruined.

“It’s absolutely pointless,” said Trempe, adding he can’t understand why anyone would want to destroy the huts. “Everyone I spoke to when I was constructing it was so excited. We had a great time building it… the people there were fantastic. I made a ton of friends I still keep in touch with.”

Trempe said he likes winter and would be happy to come back.

“If they wanted me to rebuild it, I’d have no problem rebuilding it.”

He felt a “special connection” to Winnipeg he shared with students and faculty at his university in Philadelphia. They were intrigued by the small installation on the frozen Red River, he said.

“They thought it was a fantastic project,” he said. “I gave three lectures that spring about the process of designing it and constructing it.”

The enormously popular winter trail has brought more than 100 international submissions this year for the coveted honour of being one of the five new warming huts approved and placed along the river trail this coming winter.

“We save as many as we can each year that can be reused,” MacKay explained. “The U of M one could possibly be repaired — it’ll take us some time.”

Firefighters had the blaze out shortly after 8 a.m., and a fire investigator was soon combing through the still-smoking ruins, sifting through debris with a shovel. Construction crews at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights directly opposite were among the callers to 911.

There is no opening in the fencing at the area where the fire occurred, MacKay said. She speculated someone may have climbed over the fence from the back side, a hill below the railway tracks.

“The gate has not been broken, the lock has not been broken — it had to have been over the fence,” she said.

Brent Jason photo Flames from the warming huts lick the air as onlookers watch.

Two other recent Forks fires were in the docks and South Point areas.

Seven warming huts were stored within a simple compound behind boards and chain-link fence, between a main parking lot and the railway station above.

That few people knew it was a storage area was part of the security plan, said MacKay, noting The Forks has stored toboggan slides, warming huts, play equipment and other amenities there for 20 years.

“This was the secure storage area — obviously we’ll have to look at other options,” she said. “This is incredibly disappointing.”

Three other warming huts escaped damage.

“We have a pretty robust security service on site. This is the first incident of this nature in 20 years” at the storage area, MacKay said.

 

— with files from Carol Sanders

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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