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This article was published 31/5/2013 (3071 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MORE than a decade after a rash of arsons forced the city to create a strike force, firefighters say firebugs are still running rampant.
Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW), said Friday they knew before a city report came out 2012 saw the highest number of arsons in years.
Forrest said he doesn't see the situation getting any better.
"We are getting arsons at a rate worse than the 1990s," he said. "Firefighters can tell you it is getting worse and the fires are getting more serious. And if we don't deal with it, it will get worse. I am really worried -- this started three summers ago and I hate to see what will happen this summer or next year."
A civic report by the arson strike force unit, created in 1999 during an epidemic of arsons, states the number of arsons in the city has more than doubled since 2007.
The report, which will be discussed at next week's protection and community services committee meeting, shows there were 583 arsons in 2012 compared to 226 in 2007. There were 2,475 arsons recorded from 2007 to 2012.
As well, since 2007, 638 people were arrested or cautioned in connection with 517 of the arsons.
The annual hot spot for arsons is District Three, which includes the North End, with about 225 arsons alone in 2012. The next-highest area is the downtown (District One) with almost 150 arsons, while District Two (St. James and Assiniboia) and District Six (Fort Garry and Charleswood) had the fewest with about 50 each. District Four (every part of the city east of the Red River) had about 110.
The report says garbage fires represented 25 per cent of the total number of arson investigations police conducted in 2012.
Police said youth and repeat arsonists are to blame for most arsons.
Forrest said what makes garbage fires the worst is they are usually started with accelerants and can quickly get out of hand by spreading to garages and houses before firefighters arrive. As well, he said the same arsonist can set fires at several different addresses in minutes.
Forrest said the fire at Health Sciences Centre a few weeks ago -- which started in a building being constructed and forced the evacuation of the Children's Hospital -- is just one example of how dangerous an arson can become.
Coun. Scott Fielding, chairman of the protection committee, said arsons are a "huge issue" and the city is working on several strategies to reduce the number.
Fielding said even though some people have seen their new garbage carts torched, the city is hoping the new garbage-collection system will reduce arsons because in the past, arsonists were setting alight refuse in larger bins.
Fielding said there has also been a directive for firefighters to call bylaw-enforcement officers if they see things such as couches abandoned in back lanes. Fielding said he's hoping stiffer fines will stop people from dumping larger items in back lanes.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.