Deadly fire prompts Moncton firefighters to monitor abandoned buildings in city

A fire in a vacant house in Moncton claimed the life of a man in November 2013. Brion Robinson/Global News

MONCTON – Eight months after a man was killed in a fire at a vacant building in downtown Moncton, fire officials say they are focusing on monitoring abandoned buildings in the city.

It’s believed the man was homeless and was using the building for shelter. At the time, fire crews did not know the building was vacant.

Since that time, the fire department and the City of Moncton’s building inspection department formed a small team to monitor the situation of abandoned buildings.

Division Chief Charles LeBlanc, with the department’s fire prevention unit, said that the team gets a list of unoccupied buildings every week and goes out to make sure they are secure and don’t pose a risk to public safety.

“What we do is get in touch with the owners and find out if there’s anything we can do and work with the owners,” he said.

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LeBlanc said the team is currently monitoring between 15 and 20 properties, but new properties are added to and removed from the list every week, so that number can fluctuate.

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The buildings may be identified through complaints from residents, criminal investigations done by the RCMP, or just by firefighters driving around the city,

LeBlanc said when the team is dealing with a building that has been left vacant, demolishing it is the last resort.

“The Moncton Fire Department and the City of Moncton, we’re not in the business of tearing down buildings,” LeBlanc said. “We work with every owner and unfortunately, when the building does go down, that was the only solution that was viable.”

LeBlanc said there could be a range of reasons why a house would stay empty in the city. It could be that the house had fallen into disrepair and fixing it up was too costly for the owner, or it could be that owner had died in the house and the family didn’t know what to do with the property.

Empty houses are sometimes used for shelter by people who do not have a home. For this reason, Harvest House Shelter’s manager is conflicted about the idea of tearing them down.

” I understand them wanting to have their own space and you know not having to live by rules,” he said, of the people who choose to live in an abandoned house instead of going to a shelter. “But it’s also sometimes quite dangerous. We’ve had people come to our shelter before that smelled like soot because the house they had been in, the house they had lived in, caught on fire.”

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“Tearing them down is a difficult place to be in because some people in the city call that home,” he added.

Gallant said that people who live in abandoned buildings are often known as ‘hidden homeless’ because they often don’t use shelter services. It’s difficult to know just how many people fit into this category.

“I would like to see people that are going to abandoned buildings come to a homeless shelter like Harvest House or House of Nazareth just because at that point they can get back on their feet,” he said.

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