A 24-year-old man is accused of setting more than a dozen fires across Winnipeg over a three-day span, including one at St. Boniface Hospital last Saturday.
The man is charged with 18 counts of property damage related to arson.
In three of those cases, including the fire at the hospital, he is also charged with disregard for human life related to arson because there were people inside or near the structure that was set ablaze, Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said at a news conference on Friday.
Carver said no one was injured in any of the fires, which involved a “huge range, from residences to garages to garbage bins to businesses to part of a hospital. Just the entire gamut.”
He said police believe the incidents are related to methamphetamine use.
“We have to sort of connect the dots there and make some leaps,” Carver said, but the man was in possession of methamphetamine when he was arrested. He was charged with possession of the drug, along with possession of an incendiary device and a weapon, when he was arrested on Tuesday.
“It’s not like somebody says, ‘Hey, you want some meth?’ And you try it and you never go back. People who are in possession of methamphetamine very typically are meth users, and it certainly is known to cause erratic and aberrant behaviour, which is what we see here.”
Carver said he couldn’t comment on a possible motive for setting the fires.
“If I were to discuss here publicly what we believe were motives, or if he in fact said anything to investigators, it would prejudice the court case,” he said.
“What I can tell you is that I don’t think there’s any particular connection to these places, so he wasn’t targeting locations based on some underlying theme. It looks like he was driving around and whatever caught his attention as a potential target was where an arson started,” he said.
Between firefighting efforts and the investigation to connect the incidents together, the string of arsons was “a massive drain on resources,” said Carver.
Police have had “very minimal” contact with the man before, but it wasn’t related to any crime he had committed.
“When I look at a file, I can go, ‘Yeah, we’ve had contact with him.’ But it could have been a traffic ticket, it could have been where he was interviewed on an incident where he was simply a witness,” Carver said.
The man is also charged with setting a fire in the 400 block of Aulneau Street on Saturday, the same day as the fire at the hospital.
The following day, police allege he set two more fires: one in the 500 block of Leila Avenue and another in the 2400 block of Main Street.
Police say the man set 10 more fires on Monday, including:
- In the first 100 block of Litz Place.
- In the 500 block of Munroe Avenue.
- In the 1600 block of Main Street.
- In the 300 block of Poplar Avenue.
- In the 300 block of Seven Oaks Avenue.
- In the first 100 block of Hanna Street.
- In the 400 block of Southhall Drive.
- In the 1700 block of Main Street.
- In the 500 block of Selkirk Avenue.
- In the 500 block of Pritchard Avenue.
Carver said this type of arrest is rare in Winnipeg.
“A serial arsonist over a short period of time is not something we commonly see,” he said.
The man was detained in custody.
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