Arson, graffiti have Bridgeland residents on alert

Some Calgary residents are on edge after a rental house in the inner-city neighbourhood of Bridgeland was set on fire last week — not once, but twice.

But that's just the beginning of what appears to be a string of vandalism in the area, according to Mark Vazquez-Mackay. He lives across the street from the house in question on Seventh Street and McDougall Road N.E.

"It burnt down last Wednesday ... and then on Thursday the garage was set on fire," Vazquez-Mackay told the Calgary Eyeopener. "On Thursday evening, there was a bunch of graffiti that appeared around the neighbourhood."

The words "dope house burners," or "DHB," were sprayed onto mailboxes and other structures in the neighbourhood.

"On a couple of the garages they wrote, 'Burn next. Dope house burners,'" he said. "They've pretty much targeted the whole neighbourhood."

Graffiti on the overpass featured a similar message, along with a swastika.

"[There's] a few layers of concern and threat," said Vazquez-Mackay.

Jeremy Squires' home was damaged in last week's fire, losing the siding on the back of the house and the outer windows.

Squires said residents have been speaking with the city, police and fire about what's been going on in the neighbourhood. 

He said he's been told the tagging and arsons are likely connected to drugs.

"That's part of a larger problem that [Bridgeland]-Riverside is facing which is that our zoning is quite high," said Vazquez-Mackay.

"A lot of these houses get bought by developers, they rent them out, they don't really care about their condition, and they're not invested in the community. Sometimes when they get boarded up the owners don't care if they're used by people who are doing bad things," said Vazquez-Mackay.

'Unpleasant welcome' for nearby refugees

Not far from the house that was set fire is Calgary Catholic Immigration Centre's Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre. Refugees new to the city spend their first three weeks at the centre in order to help them transition into life in Calgary.

"The night before [the fire], we got 33 new arrivals. That was their first day in Canada," said Zeljko Dragicevic, the facilities manager at the centre. "We had to evacuate the building. That was kind of an unpleasant welcome."

"We had so many firetrucks, police cars around and people got a little bit stressed out," said Dragicevic. "It's enough stress to come to a new country, start new life, and think that you are in a safe place and the first thing that you see is the huge ball of fire coming your way."

​The community will host a neighbourhood safety meeting next week. In the meantime, everyone is on alert, said Vazquez-Mackay.

"It could be any of us who are targeted next," he said. 

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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener