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Vancouver fire and police collaborate to curb spike in arsons

Because many criminal acts may result in arson, police are now involved in the investigations.

Firehall No. 22 on Oak St. serves the Marpole neighbourhood. Photo: Perrin Grauer.
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Reported by Perrin Grauer

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services has had to pull out all the stops in an effort to curb a spike in arsons in vacant homes in 2016.

The Marpole, Sunset and Grandview-Woodland neighbourhoods saw a doubling and even tripling of arsons last year, many of them in homes that were unoccupied, contributing to the 38 vacant home fires that Vancouver saw last year.

Fire services and police work together

In an effort to get to the bottom of the increase, fire services now consider home fires that occur after an unlawful entry as arson and involves the Vancouver Police Department, even if the fires themselves are technically accidental.

“Before it became a really pervasive problem we would just treat those as an accidental fire,” VFRS spokesperson Cpt. Jonathan Gormick said. “But when they started to increase with such frequency in 2016, we began involving VPD in the files.”

Sgt. Jason Robillard of the VPD says many criminal acts can result in unintentional arson. But police are not yet able to provide a definitive explanation for last year’s statistical spike.

“These investigations are complex and oftentimes we don’t realize why there was a spike or why there was a decrease until we make headway in those investigations and we follow the evidence,” Robillard said.

City officials, meanwhile, have been working with VFRS to create bylaws to help prevent unlawful entry to vacant homes.

Sara Couper, communications manager for the City of Vancouver, says fire bylaws have been amended to require that vacant homes be boarded up, and that this strategy seems to be working.

“VFRS has not seen a re-entry into a boarded-up home since this new standard was implemented,” Couper said via email. “VFRS has in fact seen over a 50 per cent reduction in vacant home fires this year.”

And while, as Gormick said, “there’s not one reason for it and there’s not one solution,” police, fire and city all point towards vigilance on behalf of residents as key to reducing the potentially devastating harm resulting from home fires.

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