Officials attempt to calm fears that Red Deer has an arson problem

The question of whether arson is a major problem in Red Deer is being raised after two intentionally set fires destroyed several homes in the last month.

The question of whether arson is a major problem in Red Deer is being raised after two intentionally set fires destroyed several homes in the last month.

The City of Red Deer has indicated that arson is much more prevalent than statistics indicate, noting that 27 per cent of all destructive fires in Red Deer are intentionally set.

The city states under its Target Arson information that mischief is behind nearly half of all cases of intentionally set fires in Red Deer.

In the case of the two most recent fires, classified as arson — the first in Vanier Woods on May 5 and the second in Southbrook on May 25 — homes under construction were targeted by the suspect(s).

“It is a lot when you consider the population and the similarities in that they were homes under construction,” Cpl. Kathy DeHeer said on Friday.

“That is a lot with the short time in between and it does raise a lot of concern.”

While DeHeer says it is understandable that questions are being raised, she also says that there hasn’t been an “abundance” of intentionally set fires in Red Deer in the past.

“It is not a charge that we see a lot of,” she said.

“We haven’t had anything like this happen in quite some time.

There haven’t been a whole lot of large fires that are the result of criminal activity.”

Red Deer City RCMP were called to Viscount Drive in the Vanier Woods neighbourhood at around 12:30 a.m. on May 5 and arrived to find a home under construction on fire.

Witnesses told police they spotted four people running away from the area. An RCMP canine team was called out to the scene and discovered a second home under construction on fire a short distance away on Voisin Close.

The first house sustained major damage to the interior while damage to the second house was contained to an attached garage. Two 16-year-old males were located nearby, arrested and charged with arson. They cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act but are expected to appear in Red Deer provincial court on June 7.

Red Deer City RCMP continue to investigate the most recent fire they believe to be intentionally set in Southbrook. The early-morning blaze demolished three homes and damaged two others on Sisson Avenue. The damage was estimated at over $1 million.

The inferno originated from a home under construction and spread to two newly-built homes on either side that were occupied by families. No injuries were reported.

DeHeer says that arsons are handled much like other crimes but they do enlist the services of their Forensic Identification Unit.

“We are always concerned about fires because there is a huge potential of many things to go wrong. They endanger the lives of many people.”

Barry Wulff, fire prevention officer with the City of Red Deer, wouldn’t say if they were seeing arson on the rise in Red Deer, just that all fires are concerning to the fire prevention branch.

He provided some tips to eliminate arson.

Get to know your neighbours, report suspicious activity, clean up property and yard of material that an arsonist could use to start a fire and secure windows and doors of homes and sheds.

Police are asking for the public’s assistance with the Southbrook blaze.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Red Deer City RCMP at 403-343-5575.

If you wish to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or visit www.tipsubmit.com. If the information leads to an arrest, tipsters are eligible for a cash reward of up to $2,000.

jjones@bprda.wpengine.com

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