A string of Christmas weekend fires has Winnipeg community activist Sel Burrows concerned. He said he is hoping to see more fire prevention efforts in the New Year.
Between the evening of Dec. 24 and the morning of Dec. 25, a total of five significant fires took place, according to the city.
Notably, a fire shortly after 4 a.m. Christmas Day at a six-storey building on Qu’Appelle Avenue left 42 residents displaced and six people hospitalized, including three in critical condition.
“Well, it tells us that our older housing stocks are in danger,” Burrows said.
Burrows said he’s seen improvements even since the fall, with a task force collaborating to prevent fires in abandoned buildings, but the work far outweighs the resources.
“We’ve got 2,000 units of vacant housing out there that need to be fixed, and many of these fires are there,” Burrows said.
The city told Global News this summer there were 64 fires in vacant buildings in 2021, more than double the year previous.
In 2023, Burrows wants to see these properties secured, including those owned by the city.
“The city real estate department isn’t following the bylaw department’s rules. And so we’ve had several (fires), at least two that I know of. City-owned, vacant houses burned.”
Burrows also mentioned the fire risk posed in the winter when people attempt to heat up older buildings.
“You get the issues like when you hit the 26 below and the landlord hasn’t kept the heat up, somebody goes out and buys an old secondhand heater that tips over at night and causes a fire.”
“The fire department’s identified a major cause of fires. You know, when it gets really cold, people turn their stove on, they turn everything on to try and keep hot and the wires overload.
“So those are two things that the city needs to take the initiative to get the province to ban older heaters and to work with hydro.”
Burrows hopes the city’s new mayor will address with resources and programming for inner-city youth, which he said are desperately needed. “We cannot afford to have more inner-city housing lost to fire.”
“We have too many homeless already and it’s the marginally housed that live in these apartment blocks and places that burn.”
— With files from Global’s Iris Dyck
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