Some north-end residents fear their house may be the next to go up in flames after six houses have been torched by a suspected arsonist over the past week. Saturday at 6 a.m., fire crews were called when a home under construction in Lakeland went up in flames.
A neighbour adjacent to the fire said she awoke to sirens and when she went to the kitchen window she could feel the heat.
“The flames were probably about four feet high on the west side of the building,” said Marcia Valiquette. “The flames went up like crazy and I could feel the heat.”
The fire spread to both houses on either side of it, which were closer to completion and had been sold.
Valiquette said she had often seen a family come by one of the houses to check on its progress.
“The one family has come non-stop ever since it was framed,” she said. “I feel so sorry for them.”
The heat from the blaze was so intense it warped the siding on Valiquette’s house.
Nine firefighters, two pumpers and the command unit were called in to battle the blaze, which leveled the middle house and significantly damaged the other two.
The scene was strangely reminiscent to that of a blaze July 21 a few blocks away which also destroyed a house under construction and two houses on either side. The two houses were occupied but with the help of some passing motorists, everyone escaped safely.
Total damages from both blazes are estimated to be about $1.5 million.
Police are investigating both of the fires which are believed to be arson.
“We’re treating them both as suspicious in origin and we’re looking into it as an arson investigation,” said Cpl. Brent Mundle of the Grande Prairie RCMP.
Residents in the area expressed some concern that an arsonist was at work in their neighbourhood.
“It never donned on us that someone could be burning houses down around us,” said Ken MacKay, a resident who lives on the same street as the latest blaze.
“If they don’t catch them, there is a definite possibility somebody can get hurt.”
MacKay said it is a sign of a growing city and while he is not fearful his house might be next, he is more cautious having his granddaughter around.
“We might not be so loose with her running around the yard.”
He hasn’t noticed anything suspicious in the neighbourhood, but says he is paying more attention now to who is coming around.
Shanda Mackie, a resident who lives a few houses from the crime scene, says the fires have rattled her a bit.
“It’s freaky … I hope they catch them. I don’t even like being home,” she said.
Police have a person of interest they are looking for in regards to both of the fires. The person is described as 16-to-18-year-old male, five-foot, ten inches tall weighing between 160 and 180 pounds. He has a slim face and short dark hair and was wearing a dark-coloured hoodie.
“We’ve received information from the public in regards to activities they have observed in the area and we’re following up on those tips,” said Mundle.
“What we’re asking is if they observe any suspicious activity in the area, especially in regard to residences or buildings under construction, to notify police.”
Police are looking for any information regarding both of the fires and in particular, any suspicious activity in the Lakeland area, Crystal Lake Estates, Lakeshore Estates and Crystal Heights.
They ask residents to report these incidents and in particular any gasoline thefts that may have occurred.