Dog called a heroine in 'highly suspicious' Vancouver house fire

Investigators have not linked fire to rash of West Side arsons

An 11-year-old standard poodle named Dulce alerted a Kerrisdale senior to a highly suspicious fire early Thursday morning that's believed to have been ignited in an open garage at the back of the woman's home on West 35th near Maple Street.

It's one of several suspicious blazes sparked in West Side neighbourhoods, including in Dunbar, South Granville and Shaughnessy, over the past couple of months.

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Catherine Brennan Schwarz was in her main floor bedroom shortly after midnight when Dulce started barking and fussing.

"She barks when anything happens, if there's something unusual. This time she kept coming back and forth and [going] into the kitchen," explained a still shaken Brennan Schwarz Thursday morning from her porch, her hands slightly blackened from touching charred items in her home.

Both the kitchen and her bedroom are on the main floor at the back of the house, just metres from where the fire started in the backyard.

"I saw smoke coming out of the side of the garage," she said. "We're telling [Dulce] today she's a heroine."

A passerby also knocked on the senior's door to warn her about the fire. Both called 911.

Investigators were on the scene Thursday. The carport was completely destroyed, leaving the blackened shell of an old red Buick visible. "I drove it yesterday," Brennan Schwarz said.

The sunroom and deck were also destroyed, and the siding on the entire back portion of the house was charred. Brennan Schwarz said there's significant damage to the home's interior, particularly the upstairs. A neighbour's home was slightly damaged by the fire and heat as well.

Brennan Schwarz's home was built in the 1920s and she's lived in it for 40 years. When the fire broke out, she went across the street to neighbours while still in her nightgown and called her children.

"You wonder why somebody would do this. It just doesn't make a lot of sense," said daughter Rosalind Erceg. "We were very lucky with the fire crew who made sure the fire didn't take out the whole house."

Charles Mulder, a spokesperson with the fire department, said there were multiple calls to 911 and it was designated a second-alarm fire. Seven trucks responded.

It remains unclear if the blaze is related to several other suspicious West Side fires.

Police and fire department officials have been warning West Side residents to be alert and not leave flammable items outside their homes in recent months. Officials were worried about serious property damage or possible injury or death if the fires continued, but investigators aren't sure if the latest fire is related to earlier ones. They also haven't ruled a correlation out.

On Thursday, Capt. Ernie Bortignon of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, was investigating the blaze at Brennan Schwarz's home. He said it was a very aggressive fire.

"It's very suspicious and we're just doing the investigation," he said.

Three portable toilets were lit on fire close to midnight on July 22 in Dunbar on the 3900 block of West 22nd Avenue, at the intersection of West 32nd Avenue and Wallace Street and the 3500 block of West 28th Avenue.

Less than a week prior to those incidents, police issued a warning about a two-month spate of pre-dawn vandalism and small fires in the Shaughnessy and South Granville area. They occurred on the 1600 block of Angus Drive, the 1500 block of Marpole Avenue, the 3600 block of Alexandra Street, the 1500 block of Laurier Avenue and south along Granville Street between 33rd and 57th.

In late June, police also issued a warning about a rash of fires in the Dunbar area from Dunbar Street to Blenheim, between West 12th and 31st Avenues. In those cases, investigators had reports that voices of youth travelling to the area were reported prior to the fires.

Police and fire officials continue to warn residents not to leave anything flammable or combustible out in the open. Anyone who spots suspicious activity is asked to call 911.

noconnor@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Naoibh

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