A steady increase in suspicious or deliberately set fires in northeast Edmonton over the past year has prompted the city to change how it tracks these blazes in hopes of putting out the problem.
Between November 2020 and April 2021, there were 148 fire-related events in a handful of neighbourhoods located just northeast of downtown, according to a Tuesday news release from Edmonton Fire Rescue Services.
During the following six months, from May through October, the number of blazes in the area almost doubled to 281.
"The largest increase in fire frequency are those that occur in vacant structures and outside fires, with suspicious and deliberately set fires being the fastest growing fire cause in the area as a whole," the news release said.
Six neighbourhoods have been particularly hard-hit — Alberta Avenue, Delton, Eastwood, Elmwood Park, Parkdale and Westwood. They are all located in an area bounded by 107th Street, Fort Road, Yellowhead Trail and 111th Avenue.
In a bid to get control of the issue, fire crews will now immediately reporting all fire incidents directly to the Edmonton Police Service's operational incident command centre, "regardless of cause, criminality or severity," the release said.
The department will also work with Alberta Health Services and the city's community standards and neighbourhoods branch to help determine whether there are other underlying issues at play, said the release.
"We recognize that there has been an increase in fire frequency in the northeast," Fire Chief Joe Zatylny said in the release.
"I want to reassure Edmontonians that we are working closely with other emergency service agencies and municipal agencies to mitigate fire risk in all areas of the city, with a strong emphasis on the northeast vacant property and arson fire problem."
The news release added that the fire service has noted an increase of intentionally set fires across the city.