Vacant buildings continue to spell trouble for Winnipeg

Vacant buildings continue to spell trouble for Winnipeg as three of them burned down on Monday, leaving Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Assistant Chief Scott Wilkinson concerned about safety issues for the public and crews.

A fire on Ross Avenue Monday night resulted in a pile of rubble and the city said it is the fourth time in less than two weeks that crews have had to come out to extinguish a blaze at the building.

“We do devote a lot of resources to every time we have a fire in one of these buildings. And unfortunately, that particular example, we had a number of fires in a row,” said Wilkinson.

“Every time one of these buildings ends up on fire, it poses a risk of extension to properties that are adjoining it and putting people’s lives at risk, and every unneeded fire puts additional risk on our crews that we have to deal with.”

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Read more: Winnipeg sees considerable fire growth over past few years

Due to the amount of resources dedicated to the fires, Wilkinson said he is concerned it will create a strain.

“People are more active. People are accessing different areas. People are moving about. We generally see higher numbers of these types of fires in the spring, summer and fall.

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“The biggest issue is that it devotes resources there that could be available for other calls. So the more we have to respond to this, the less availability we have for others.”

But despite the strain the WFPS is experiencing from high call volumes and staffing issues, Ross Avenue neighbour Idil Timayare said the crews had a good response time to the most recent fire.

“Especially the last time when the fire happened, the firefighter came quickly. That’s good,”

Read more: WFPS recorded over 13,000 sick days for 2022, the biggest increase in 5 years

Meanwhile, Coun. Sherri Rollins said public service recommendations on improving vacant building demolition and enforcement are forthcoming in 2023 and recent amendments to a city bylaw that would make property owners responsible for the firefighting bill are underway.

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“They have started issuing bills on the basis of council’s work, and so that’s good news.”

However, Wilkinson said he is counting on further changes that will hold owners accountable to make communities safer as these fires are posing a big risk.

“We run the risk of injury to our personnel and then a risk to the public. The intent is to recoup the cost, but also to provide a disincentive for people to not fully maintain homes in a secure fashion.

The best-case scenario is that we’re responding to less of these fires that are highly preventable and leaving ourselves available for those other emergencies.”

Wilkinson said they haven’t yet recouped the costs of the eight or nine properties they’ve invoiced since March.

with files from Global’s Rosanna Hempel 

Click to play video: 'Vacant buildings on Manitoba Avenue burn early Tuesday'

Vacant buildings on Manitoba Avenue burn early Tuesday

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