By Lethbridge Herald on February 8, 2024.
Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
• 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.
• Limit the use of combustible materials for rear decks
• Public awareness and education.
• Reporting all suspicious activity.