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Suspicious fires spark arson investigations

A house fire on Speed Avenue early Tuesday morning marked Victoria’s fifth fire over the long weekend, in addition to three in Esquimalt.

The fire caused significant damage to an abandoned house on 607 Speed Ave., starting on the back deck before spreading to the house and detached garage.

The other fires all took place early Monday morning, and included a grass fire in Vic West, an occupied residency and the interior of an abandoned building both on Prior Street and a detached shed outside a home on Topaz Avenue.

When the fires occurred, Victoria Police Department was already carrying out investigations for a string of suspicious fires set between April 25 and May 19.

While fire prevention officer Megan Sabell said it was too early to confirm a connection between the fires, the and location makes it possible that the same individual or individuals may be responsible.

The Victoria Fire Department has seen a sharp rise in the amount of fires this year, 46 so far, compared to a total of 30 in 2013.

Of those 46, VicPD is investigating 30 of them as suspicious.

Several of these fires have taken place in abandoned buildings.

“Historically, we haven’t had a lot of fires in vacant buildings, but this year we have,” Sabell said.

“We’re not sure if they’re being targeted or if people are just coming across them, thinking it may be good practice.”

Two vacant building fires from earlier this year, on 648 Herald Street in April and the corner of Cook and Empress streets in June, started from inside the buildings, which makes it possible that squatters were responsible.

“We do get calls sometimes for squatters and campers doing open burning in parks and buildings,” Sabell said.

Respond, a city-wide group made up of bylaw, police, and fire prevention officers as well as building and electrical inspectors, started tracking abandoned buildings earlier this year, out of concern over the rising number of fires in these buildings.

City bylaws also state that the owner of a vacant building must keep it free of any debris or combustible waste, and ensure that all openings are securely fastened in order to prevent entry.

Sabell warns residents to be vigilant if they live near an abandoned building.

“Leave your outside light on at night, don’t leave combustibles outside and don’t take the recycling out until its time for it to be picked up,” she said. “If somebody is looking to start a fire they’ll use whatever materials are available.”

VicPD is also looking for information to assist their investigations, particularly in identifying a grey SUV spotted near the site of the fire on the 1200-block of Lockley Street.

VicPD is asking anyone with information to call their non-emergency line at 250-995-7654, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

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