Vancouver police and firefighters are ramping up a public relations campaign to ensure residents don’t become a victim of an arson this summer.
The campaign launch comes after firefighters responded Tuesday night to three suspected arson fires on the West Side and more than 40 arsons in the first five months of this year.
“We won’t say that there is a firebug on the loose, but we are saying there have been a number of deliberately set fires that have occurred in the city,” said Capt. Gabe Roder of the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services. “At this point in time, we can’t piece any of those together, nor are we suggesting that those fires are connected.”
Firefighters announced Wednesday at a press conference in an alley near the 1900-block of Ogden Avenue they will be doing regular neighbourhood patrols to search for any combustibles left outside that could be used to start a fire.
If necessary, they will drop off a “safety check card” or talk to the homeowner about the dangers of leaving such items as mattresses and old furniture in an alley. Firefighters urge residents not to place recycling bins, garbage or yard clippings outside their homes the night before they are to be picked up.
Roder and Lieut. Bob Dubbert of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services took media on a stroll Wednesday morning down the alley near Ogden Street to point out targets of an arsonist.
“As you walk down, you see all kinds of opportunities,” said Dubbert, pointing to a mattress sitting on a piece of cardboard and propped up against a wooden garage.
Dubbert noted recycling bins full of paper, a bundle of dry branches and totes of yard clippings as other types of combustibles and stressed the importance of being vigilant about making a home unattractive to an arsonist.
Motion lights are a must.
“People who deliberately set fires don’t like light,” Roder said.
Last year, firefighters responded to 151 arsons in the city, including a spate of 24 arsons on the West Side. A suspect has been arrested in connection with two of the 24 fires.
The 151 represented about 32 per cent of fires in Vancouver last year and don’t include the 71 set during the Stanley Cup riot June 15, 2011.
The 151 fires caused more than $7 million in property damage. About 80 per cent of the arsons occurred between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., Roder said.
On Tuesday night, two dumpsters were set on fire at 10:40 p.m. in an alley near Broadway and Balaclava. Ten minutes later, a portable toilet was set ablaze at 19th and Highbury Street. At 4:30 a.m. the next morning, an older car was set on fire at Fifth and Highbury.
Const. Brian Montague, a VPD media relations officer, urged residents to report any suspicious activity to police to avoid a possible arson. “We want to prevent loss of property as much as we can and, more importantly, we want to prevent someone needlessly losing their life because of a fire set by an arsonist,” Montague said.
On Sept. 11, 2008 Willene Wah Ying Chong lay sleeping in her bed at 2781 East 55th Avenue when an arsonist set fire to her home.
The 77-year-old woman was unable to escape and died. One of Chong’s five children, her 39-year-old son, was injured in the blaze.
So far, police have determined the arson was a random act.
A $10,000 reward still exists for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the crime. Call 604-717-2500 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.