Saskatoon assistant fire chief says arson count likely to double in 2020

Saskatoon assistant fire chief Yvonne Raymer said she expects there will be twice as many deliberately-set fires in the city in 2020 as there was last year.

Speaking to Global News in Fire Station #1, she said the Saskatoon Fire Department has responded to 76 incendiary fires this year.

There were just 50 in all of 2019.

Read more: Cause of commercial blaze on Ave. I incendiary: Saskatoon Fire Department

“It’s always concerning when someone is deliberately (starting) fires,” she said.

But she added that no one has been hurt or killed in fires this year.

She said that is because 23 of the 40 incendiary building fires were started at boarded-up houses.

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She rejected the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic had any connection to the higher incidence of deliberate fires, but did say she believed the uptick began in March.

The Saskatoon Police Service’s count of arson is even higher — 106 between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31., though a spokesperson said most of these involve garbage or recycling bins.

Of those 106 arsons, 78 took place in the central division, which is comprised of 11 neighbourhoods including Pleasant Hill, Caswell Hill and the Central Business District.

The spokesperson, in an email, said there were 43 total arsons across the city for the same time period in 2019.

They also said police arrested 16 people to date and have laid 19 arson charges.

Read more: Arson cause of Saskatoon garage fire: Saskatoon Fire Department

Six of those arrests came in June, during a month-long police operational plan to crack down on suspicious fires.

Both the police and fire department said the numbers, and methods of igniting the fires, indicated different people were starting them.

“There has been some similarities but there has also been some arrests. And the incendiary fires have not stopped,” Raymer said.

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“So we have a diverse activity out there using different sources of ignition.”

Kelsie Fraser, the police spokesperson told Global News police do not currently have an active operational plan directed at the ongoing arson incidents.

She also said police do not have any outstanding suspects.

Fraser said the police and fire department have recorded different amounts of incendiary fires because they record them differently.

“There may be circumstances where officers come across fires while on routine patrol, or where a witness flags over Police to report (a fire). In either of these cases, it wouldn’t generate a call to our communications centre and is considered an on-view. In these circumstances if the fire is small or has already been extinguished, the Fire Department may not be notified, but the occurrence is labelled as arson,” she wrote.

Raymer said residents should clear their yards of any combustible material and call the police if they see anything suspicious.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.