Crews are responding to a large barn fire on Ross Road in Abbotsford. Kevin Macdonald photo Fire crews have responded to 12 barn fires so far in 2017. That’s up from just two last year. File photo

Arsonist not to blame for barn fires: Abbotsford fire chief

In four years. number of OD calls have risen from 5 to more than 400

Investigators don’t believe a firebug is responsible for this year’s spike in the number of barns that have burned to the ground.

Fire crews have responded to 12 barn blazes so far in 2017, compared to just two the previous year.

While investigators are still analyzing data, Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service chief Don Beer said it doesn’t appear a barn-burning arsonist is to blame.

“There was some concerns about maybe having an arsonist running around and … I would suggest to you that that’s not the case.”

Instead, he said investigators have discovered electrical problems seem likely to blame for at least a couple of the fires. Beer said wire-chewing rodents are known to be one common culprit in barns.

The city hasn’t just seen an uptick in farm fires this year. Across Abbotsford, structure fires are up around 22 per cent so far this year.

Beer says the fires have had myriad causes. Those include kitchen fires, which may prompt the department to renew a related public education campaign.

Three of the house fires also had startlingly similar cause: during a hot spell, the compressor in a constantly-working freezer broke down nearby combustibles and then ignited them. The risk of such blazes can be minimized by cleaning in the area around a freezer, Beer noted.

Most fires responded to by crews, though, are minor in seriousness, often in dumpsters or of the grass/mulch variety, according to data provided during budget meetings earlier this month. Through September, the department has responded to 33 house fires, 13 blazes in apartments and townhouses, nine in commercial buildings, and four industrial fires. Vehicle fires are more common, with 89 reported through September.

Fires represent a small slice of the increasingly busy department.

In 2013, crews responded to 4,677 incidents. This year, the department is on pace to deal with 9,047 issues – a 93 per cent increase.

Beer told council earlier this month that the department has been able to “absorb” the increase in responses, but noted they are making it more difficult to find time for required training and fire inspections.

Nearly half of the incidents are in response to medical and rescue calls. A small, but serious and rapidly growing subset of those are responses to reported overdoses.

In 2013, the department responded to five overdose calls. This year, crews are on pace to handle 452 overdose calls. While Beer said the department has been able to handle the increase in the number of incidents, he suggested that the overdose calls in particular exact a larger toll on responders, with officials becoming increasingly aware of the levels of post-traumatic stress disorder within the profession.

In the cases of overdoses, Beer told council: “The reality for our firefighters … is they are often not aware of the results and the outcomes of their efforts – whether the individuals survive or not.”

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