Calgary home destroyed by fire believed to be 2nd target of suspected arsonist, say police

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A home in Calgary's Varsity neighbourhood was engulfed in flames early Saturday morning. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
A home in Calgary's Varsity neighbourhood was engulfed in flames early Saturday morning. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

A Calgary family of five is in shock after their home was engulfed in flames early Saturday morning.

"[I'm] grateful that my family's alive, but a little overwhelmed," said Rhonda Gravel, who escaped the fire with her husband Remi, and their daughter and two sons.

Calgary police said in a statement they are looking for a man they believe is connected to the fire that destroyed the family's home in the northwest neighbourhood of Varsity.

Police believe this same man is connected to another suspected arson that happened in that neighbourhood on May 18.

Submitted by Calgary Police Service
Submitted by Calgary Police Service

Around 5 a.m. on Saturday, fire crews were called to the house fire in the 1200-block of Varsity Estates Road after a neighbour called 911 reporting smoke and noise coming from the garage, the Calgary Fire Department said in a statement.

Rhonda and Remi said they were awoken by their daughter after she went downstairs. She had heard sounds from the garage and saw flames.

"She screamed that there was a fire and came running upstairs. And by the time she got to our door, we had kind of heard her and she was yelling, 'our house is on fire,'" said Rhonda.

The couple quickly woke up their sons and took their kids to their neighbour's house, said Remi.

"When we came around the side of the house, we could see that the front of the garage was basically fully engulfed in flames already at that point," said Rhonda.

Remi was able to go back to rescue some belongings as well as the family cat.

"Everybody's out and we're just trying to figure out what happened now," he said.

Home 'uninhabitable'

This is the third residential structure fire the fire department was called to in less than 24 hours in the city, with two separate fires happening earlier in the Evanston neighbourhood.

According to the fire department, upon arrival, crews found the two-storey single-family home fully engulfed in flames and smoke.

"An aggressive fire attack was started," they said. "The source home has been significantly damaged by fire and will be uninhabitable."

In addition to the Gravel family, two other people living in the neighbouring home on the left were also safely evacuated, said the fire department.

Officials say some neighbours will be temporarily displaced.

Fire crews remained on the scene Saturday to manage hot spots and monitor air quality before allowing nearby residents to return. Alberta Health Services was also at the scene.

There were no injuries reported.

'Deeply concerning'

Calgary Police said in an email statement Saturday afternoon they are asking the public for help with identifying a man they believe is connected to to this fire, as well as one two-and-a-half weeks ago in the 1100-block of Varsity Estates Drive N.W.

According to police, CCTV footage collected of the first fire shows a man setting fire to a back shed before taking off. The fire then spread to the house and garage.

In both instances, police said the suspect was believed to have been car prowling before the fires were started.

Submitted by Calgary Police Service
Submitted by Calgary Police Service

"We are thankful that no one was injured as a result of these fires, however, it is deeply concerning that fires are being set at or near residential homes while residents are home, and often asleep," said Calgary police in an email statement.

Police said there is nothing to indicate these were targeted incidents and the motive is unknown.

"It is critically important that we identify and locate the person we believe to be connected to these events."

Police describe the suspect as being between 20 and 30 years old, light-skinned and clean shaven. They say he has been seen carrying a black backpack and wearing a hat.

Police recommend residents keep their outdoor lights on, secure their garages and sheds, and call 911 if they spot the suspect.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.

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