Alberta Avenue residents tired of living in fear amid ongoing fires in the area

Click to play video: 'Ongoing fires in the Alberta Avenue area leave Edmonton residents fearful'
Ongoing fires in the Alberta Avenue area leave Edmonton residents fearful
Residents in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood say they are living in fear and wondering if their properties will be targeted next amid a growing string of suspicious fires in the area. Sarah Komadina has more – May 23, 2022

Residents in and around Alberta Avenue say they are living in fear and wondering if their properties will be next amid an ongoing string of fires in the area.

“The fires have continued,” said Christy Morin, a resident of the Alberta Avenue district. “We continue hoping and praying that there would be a break in this series of fires and we haven’t seen the relief yet. So we’re not even sure what is happening.

The most recent fire happened at about 5 a.m. Saturday in the area of 113 Avenue and 104 Street.

Elke Siebels, who has lived in the area for 37 years, said she was getting up to use the washroom just before 5 a.m. when she heard an explosion. She looked out her bedroom window and saw the garage at a nearby property on fire.

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“I thought, ‘Oh my God. Wow, this is close,'” she said Monday.

Four fire crews were called to the fire, which engulfed a detached garage. The fire was declared out shortly after 6 a.m. and no injuries were reported.

On Monday, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said investigators have determined the blaze was deliberately set. Damages are estimated at $130,000: $100,000 for the garage structure and $30,000 in contents.

Saturday’s fire is the latest in a series of blazes spanning several months in and around the north central Edmonton community. Within blocks of the site, debris from previous fires can be seen.

“I think it’s scary for a number of the neighbours, and we have a number of senior citizens and families with children. So it is very, very unsettling,” Siebels said. “It is tiring when you see this kind of thing happening.”

Recent fires in Alberta Avenue have residents on edge. Global News

Residents in the area say they are exhausted and want more to be done to keep their neighbourhood safe.

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“Normal people on May long weekend are at the lake and putting in flowers. We are worried and meeting and talking about how we can help and we can’t do this anymore. The city is failing us,” Morin said. “You’re sort of like, ‘When does this stop?’ It’s like living a nightmare.”

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“I’d really like to see city council stepping up to the plate and doing something about this, and I certainly don’t want to see less money go to the police department. We need all the resources that we can get to fight crime,” Siebels added.

Erick Estrada is the treasurer of the Alberta Avenue Community League and has lived in the area for about eight years. He said it’s a wonderful neighbourhood with people who really care about their community, but he too would like to see more done to improve safety for everyone who lives, works and visits the area.

“It’s the long weekend and we can’t be out there enjoying it because we have to be vigilant of our properties and our community. Everybody else can go out and enjoy the lake or whatever, but here we have to be still vigilant and everybody’s just tired to be ‘that neighbourhood’ in Edmonton,” he said.

“It is great to live here. It is not great to live in fear.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmontonians raise more concerns about Alberta Avenue fires'
Edmontonians raise more concerns about Alberta Avenue fires

Estrada said councillors have come to area in the past and they’re hopeful this council will do something to help.

“We have a new city council and they’re still new and we still have high hopes for them. They have walked with us through burned down houses but I don’t think they will have the time to walk with us through this many,” he said.

“In here we do need the police. We do need more patrolling… They have been doing a lot of work here and we still need a lot more presence for our business and communities to thrive.”

Several residents from the Alberta Avenue area, as well as the greater downtown region, say they are planning on going to city hall on Tuesday in hopes of speaking to councillors about their concerns.

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An abandoned, burned-out home in Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, in an undated photo. Global News

Ashley Salvador, city councillor for the area, Ward Metis, acknowledged the number of fires there has increased and said she’s worried, too.

“It demands attention. It demands an immediate approach. I’m hopeful that the action plan that council has recently put in place just as of last month will start to help with this situation.”

Salvador said that the Community Property Safety Team, a 18-month pilot project, was just approved in April and that she’s optimistic it will help.

“That team is essentially tasked with taking additional enforcement measures on these types of problematic properties — gaining immediate compliance at buildings of concern, holding landowners more accountable for these types of structures and buildings that pose a fire risk to the community.

“We had a fairly robust discussion about the best way to tackle problem properties in particular — which, of course, is related to the number of fires that we’ve seen in Alberta Avenue — taking a stronger approach, finding ways to secure properties more faster and in a more efficient manner, but also having a broader discussion around how can we expedite the redevelopment and even the demolition of some of these properties that have been a burden on our neighbourhood for far too long?”

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A detached garage caught fire in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood Saturday, May 21, 2022. Global News

Global News asked Salvador about residents’ concerns that changes to the police budget could make the problem worse.

“Whenever we’re talking about having the most effective and efficient allocation of resources for community safety and wellbeing, we have to think of it as an ecosystem. We have to think of it holistically,” she said.

“In my mind, it’s really critical that Edmonton Fire Rescue are properly resourced, EPS is properly resourced, as well as more proactive social supports like supportive housing, mental health supports, harm reduction, so we are both dealing with some of the longstanding systemic challenges that are leading to what we’re seeing today, but at the same time addressing challenges that we’re seeing immediately, on the ground, in our neighbourhoods today.”

Global News has reached out to Edmonton Fire Rescue Services and the Edmonton Police Service for more information on the recent fires. This story will be updated if a response is received.

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