A woman running for city council in the upcoming municipal election said she’s been left scrambling after many of her campaign signs and flyers were destroyed by fire.
Just after 6:20 a.m. Monday, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services received a 911 call about a garage fire in the area of 112 Avenue and 94 Street.
The caller said they saw flames and smoke coming from the garage. Fire crews arrived on scene within minutes and quickly doused the blaze.
The garage belongs to Liz John-West, who is running for council in the Métis riding. She said she was up early Monday morning working on her campaign when she heard a bang and some crackling.
Read more: Edmonton election 2021: Who won in Métis?
“I’m going, ‘Where is that sound coming from?’ And then I looked out my hallway window and fire was in our backyard,” she said. “I woke up my daughter and my husband, grabbed our stuff and ran out of the house.
“It’s really discouraging. We’ve lived in the community for 30-odd years and we haven’t experienced this type of loss. And when you look at the debris it almost feels like a war zone. You just kind of are present in that moment, looking at all of your stuff being burnt down.
“It feels horrible… unsafe.”
John-West said the large red structure was more than just a place for their vehicles.
“Jeff made such a unique garage — a storey and a half — the red garage. It was a little bit of a gathering space upstairs for our kids when they were younger and of course, the vehicles and a lot of my election stuff was in the garage as well — the lawn signs and flyers. And of course, all of that is gone now.”
The candidate said she recently ordered more flyers to hand out in a few neighbourhoods they have yet to visit. She was set to meet with her campaign volunteers later Monday to decide how they can reach the people in these neighbourhoods with the campaign flyers.
No one was in the garage at the time and no one was injured.
“Our house is good, our families are safe so if there’s anything beautiful out of it, that is the beauty of it, that we are all safe,” John-West said.
Leading cause of Alberta Avenue fires suspected arson: EFRS
EFRS did not have any information Monday morning on how the garage fire may have started. However, a spokesperson with EFRS said the leading cause of fires in this neighbourhood is suspected arson.
EFRS did not have data on how many fires are being investigated as arson in the area, but said Edmonton police are notified of all fires and investigate those that are deemed suspicious.
“We cannot provide a comparison of fire cause to previous years as we changed our data collection process this year,” Brittany Lewchuk with EFRS said in a statement. “However, next year we will be able to show comparisons.”
Anecdotally, John-West said she’s seen more fires in the area recently.
“I understand that we live in a marginalized community, I get that. And we’ve chosen to live here mainly because we want to make it better and we’ve been at it for about 30-odd years and it has improved significantly. But in the last little while, these fires and others — lots of shootings in the last couple months in our neighbourhood — something has switched,” she said.
“I think it’s critical that leaders continue to speak to these types of issues. I think we need to figure out, how do we make all the different neighbourhoods safe for all the families. That’s critical for us.”
The cost of the damage to John-West’s property is not yet known.
Neighbours want answers
Valda Roberts lives near where a fire in the area recently broke out and said she first moved into the area 22 years ago. She said she was frustrated more is not being done to combat the problem.
“If it was happening to any other neighbourhood besides an inner-city neighbourhood, I don’t think there would be such lack of action towards the causation of this,” she said.
“Our neighbourhood certainly feels like we are under siege.”
Anna Bubel also lives in the area and told Global News that she believes problems often arise when longtime homeowners or renters leave the area.
“If the stable homeowners leave and the stable renters leave, then I think we’ve just written a blank check to organized crime and to drug dealers,” she said. “This is what happens when people don’t have the resources to kick their habit and get housing.”
Bubel also indicated she wants more to be done after fires break out in certain kinds of structures.
“Why are these structures allowed to stay up? Why does the city not issue an immediate demolition order after the fire investigation is over?” she asked.
“It really increases the sense of anxiety and fear.”
Bubel added this year marked what was “probably the worst summer that any of us have experienced here since we moved in.”