Winnipeg firefighters respond to 3 fires in 12-hour period

A Winnipeg community advocate is speaking out about vacant homes after firefighters reported three fires in a 12-hour period on the weekend, with two in vacant homes.

“It’s disgusting this is happening,” said Sel Burrows, co-ordinator of Point Powerline, a crime prevention and community development organization in Point Douglas.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service crews responded to three fires between just before 9 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday, the City of Winnipeg said in a news release on Sunday.

The first was in a vacant home on Stella Avenue near Powers Street in the North End.

Firefighters were called to the fire just before 9 p.m. Saturday and had to attack the flames from the outside, because it wasn’t safe to enter the house.

The house must be demolished because the fire made it structurally unsound, the city said.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service was called to three fires in a 12-hour period this weekend — one in the North End, one in Point Douglas and one in the West End. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Firefighters were called about the second fire, on Grove Street between Euclid Avenue and Prince Edward Street in Point Douglas, just before 2 a.m. Sunday.

Heavy smoke and flames were coming from the vacant building when firefighters arrived. They got the fire under control about half an hour after they arrived.

Around 7:45 a.m., firefighters were called to a storey-and-a-half home on Victor Street near Ellice Avenue in the West End.

Heavy black smoke was coming from the house but crews could fight the fire from inside, and got it under control in 20 minutes.

Burrows said some owners of vacant buildings aren’t forced to board the windows and doors up to prevent people from squatting and lighting fires to stay warm.

Fixing up vacant homes to use for rental housing is far more cost-effective than rebuilding a home after it’s been destroyed by fire, Burrows said.

“You know, it’s kind of disgusting from my point of view. Everybody’s pushing the government to put more money into social housing, which I totally support. Meanwhile, we’re losing the equivalent of social housing,” he said.

“Economically, if we want to get decent housing for the lower income levels … we need to get these houses back, being fixed up and rented out.”

Alternatives must be created for people experiencing homelessness who take refuge in vacant homes, and people need to be gotten out of those spaces quickly, before someone dies, he said.

City council will consider Thursday whether to make owners of vacant buildings pay the costs when there’s a fire. The motion has already been approved by the property and development committee and the executive policy committee.

There are 683 vacant buildings registered in Winnipeg, a city report says, with 39 or 40 fires in vacant buildings each year from 2019 to 2021.

The costs of responding to those fires ranged from nearly $426,000 to more than $500,000.

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