July 24th, 2024

Downtown fires take steep jump, task force hears

By Lethbridge Herald on February 8, 2024.

Firefighters move hoses after responding to a fire that destroyed the historic Bow On Tong building last January. A report to the Downtown Lawlessness Reduction Task Force says there were 77 fires downtown in 2023, compared to 33 in 2022. Herald file photo by Al Beeber

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Downtown fires increased by 133 per cent from 2022 to 2023, according to a report submitted to the Downtown Lawlessness Reduction Task Force on Thursday.

The task force, a sub-committee of the Safety and Social Standing Policy Committee of Lethbridge city council, met at 7:30 a.m. in council chambers.

Unlike council and SPC meetings, its proceedings weren’t streamed online.

Committee members include mayor Blaine Hyggen, acting mayor John Middleton-Hope, Hunter Heggie, Sarah Amies, Matthew McHugh, Kendal Hachkowski and Sheri Kain.

A report on downtown fire safety awareness prepared by Lethbridge Fire & Emergency Services showed that in 2023 there were 77 fires downtown compared to 33 in 2022. There were 28 blazes in 2021 and 27 in 2020 for a total of 165 fires over that span.

The report stated that the public and property are at a greater risk due to the increasing number of fires downtown. And damage to commercial properties results in financial loss, hurting the economy and hindering downtown investment, revitalization and the feeling of public safety.

Fires also increase the risk of injuries to civilians and firefighters.

The report showed the different classifications of fires including incendiary, accidental, natural and undetermined.

Incendiary fires, the report noted, “are intentionally ignited in an area or under circumstances where and when a fire should not exist.” They are deliberately set but not all incendiary fires are arson, said the report, arson which can be defined as the willful and malicious burning of a person’s property.

The vast majority of arsonists are motivated by profit, vandalism, excitement, revenge, crime concealment or extremism, the report noted, citing the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.

Vandalism, it noted, is a “malicious fire setting that damages property, seemingly at random.” Fires are set at random when the opportunity arises and generally lack regard for the safety of others.

An excitement factor involves thrill-seeking, attention and recognition. These fires include small trash and dumpster fires to occupied buildings that are often set in familiar neighbourhoods with the perpetrator staying to watch or being hero/vanity arsonists or juveniles.

Opportunity plays a significant role in arsons, said the report, with unsecured properties, weak surveillance and access to combustible materials and debris presenting those opportunities for “malicious minds” to exploit.

“Trash bins, alley debris and dumpsters are common mischievous fire-setting incidents downtown, which are seemingly at random and with no identifiable purpose,” said the report referring to these incidents as vandalism.

Fires can be prevented through various actions by the public. Those include:

• Lighting.

• Monitoring and security.

• Decrease available fuel – reduce combustible debris.

• Lock dumpsters/bins/sheds.

• Maintain clearance of combustibles from the building.

• Board up and secure buildings not in use.

• Signage.

• Limit the use of combustible materials for rear decks

and stairs.

• Public awareness and education.

• Reporting all suspicious activity.

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old school

Another cost, to be borne by the working public.


I support this task force and look forward to the results. I would add regarding fires, which in the last couple of years I have had to call to report fires several times just on one block, one of which could have started the roof of a home on fire from the trees and bush were were engulfed, that leaving the large pallets in the back alley or by the dumpster (which garbage collection will not take) only adds to the issues. I witness several businesses doing this and have watched the addicted homeless take two into the coulee and use as for firewood, ending up with a large grassfire which had to be contained near the Galt Museum. Bad idea!
I have seen many of the people on the streets going through dumpsters, opening garbage bags and often taking paper and burning them nearby near garages or fences, one fence caught fire from this and I had to once again call LFD to put out the fire, which is right across the alley from where the trees/bushes were on fire weeks prior. I have also watched them tear off slats on a fence and burn them, of course in that same area!
The fuels from the fire such as paper garbage, cardboard, mostly came for dumpsters and garbage cans, some of which are the new garbage receptacles on the corners of downtown which have locks on them, but are open for some reason, so you often see the doors open and garbage blowing down the street, or the whole garbage bag gone. Perhaps we could have them locked as designed? There are city dumpsters available which can remain locked, but garbage trucks are still able to empty, and may help.
But, the issues are not the fires, it is the people who cause the fires!