One building, 25 calls to fire crews

Riley Farkus and Brooklyn Wilson, two Grade 1 students at McMillan Elementary, add a cross of poppies to the collection of wreaths made by students for a Remembrance Day ceremony the school held Thursday morning. - JOHN VAN PUTTEN /  The Abbotsford News
Riley Farkus and Brooklyn Wilson, two Grade 1 students at McMillan Elementary, add a cross of poppies to the collection of wreaths made by students for a Remembrance Day ceremony the school held Thursday morning.
— image credit: JOHN VAN PUTTEN / The Abbotsford News

The Abbotsford fire department fought two separate suspicious fires Wednesday night at a derelict apartment building on Tessaro Crescent – a problem property in such terrible condition it’s monopolizing city resources.

The Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS) has been plagued with calls to 33452 Tessaro Cres. over the past few months, said Capt. Steve Oldroyd.

AFRS had 25 calls to the same residence this year alone, and 52 calls since 2001, for such things as fires, medical emergencies and false fire alarms.

“The building is using a lot of the city’s resources,” said Oldroyd.

“We were there twice Wednesday night and once the night before, and fire crews were appalled at the conditions they saw.”

Not only is the fire safety of the building compromised by damaged fire doors, missing fire extinguishers and holes in the walls, but fire crews also reported health hazards such as feces in the stairwells and needles littered throughout the building, Oldroyd said.

The building has a strong criminal element and it’s reached a point that fire and ambulance crews require Abbotsford Police to be on scene prior to entering the building, he said.

Firefighters responded to two fires at the complex on Wednesday, one just after 7 p.m. and a second at 1:34 a.m.

Fire investigators believe both fires were intentionally set.

When crews arrived to fight the first fire in a third-floor suite, they found the door barricaded with a file cabinet.

Once inside, crews quickly extinguished the fire located in a mattress.

With the second alarm, firefighters found carpeting which appeared to be intentionally set ablaze in the hallway on the third floor.

A propane torch was also located on scene.

Oldroyd says the building is not equipped with sprinklers, as the structure isn’t the required height to demand them.

However, efforts to get the owners to meet other fire code regulations have not been very successful.

“We’ve had trouble getting hold of people,” said Oldroyd.

“Nobody is keeping an eye on this place, and word on the street gets out pretty quick you can live in this place for free.”

To obtain a business licence to run a rental property there must be a full-time, live-in manager, said Oldroyd.

“They had them but they’ve left. They can’t keep them due to the situation,” he said.

“The last manager left a few days ago. There’s nobody in control.”

Police say the building has also been on their radar for some time.

Const. Casey Vinet said police are aware of the problems, have made numerous arrests in or around the complex, and get regular calls regarding fights, noise complaints and drug trafficking.

“There’s no doubt there’s a lot of activity around that building,” said Vinet.

“It takes up a lot of our time.”

The city is taking a coordinated approach through the city integrated services enforcement team (ISET), he said.

The team is comprised of the police, fire and various other municipal departments that work with problem private or commercial properties to ensure they conform with required regulations.

ISET has notified the property management and outlined the building’s many deficiencies, said Vinet.

“From our perspective there’s been a real lack of management,” he said.

“However, through ISET we’re working to change that.”

“Our goal here is to get this building back on track so people who reside in and around the area can feel safe.”

City spokesman were not available for comment about the problem property.

As far as the fires are concerned, Police arrested a suspect in connection with the second fire.

A motive for the blazes is still unknown, said Vinet.

Peter Dawson, 55, who is known to police and a resident of the building, is facing arson related charges.

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