Opportunists torch empty city houses

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 25/07/2013
Christchurch fire
DEAN KOZANIC/ Fairfax NZ
LOOKING FOR CLUES: An investigator searches for evidence after a suspicious fire in Aldershot St, Aranui, yesterday. Police think a recent spate of arsons are unconnected.

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Christchurch police maintain a spate of suspected arsons in the city is the work of opportunists, rather than a serial firebug.

The tally of suspicious fires in abandoned city houses rose to eight in less than a fortnight yesterday, with firefighters called to two abandoned eastern Christchurch homes.

Police say they will increase patrols in eastern areas at night in a bid to deter would-be arsonists.

The first blaze yesterday was in Buckleys Rd, Linwood, at 12.30am, followed by a blaze at a house in Aldershot St, Aranui about 10.45am.

The others were:

  • A River Rd house about 1.55am on Tuesday.
  • A Marine Pde garage about 11.45pm on Monday.
  • A two-storey vacated Wainoni Rd, Avondale house about 5am on Saturday.
  • Birchfield Ave about 6.15pm on July 17, after which an arrest was made.
  • A Salisbury St house about 2pm on July 16.
  • An Ebbitide St house about 12.20am on July 13.

Detective Inspector Greg Murton said levels of reported arson across the city were no higher than normal.

In the past three months there have been about 60 suspicious fires in Christchurch. Only a small proportion of those involved homes and less than a third were in residential red-zone areas.

"Overall, the rate of suspicious fires at present is no higher than historical averages," Murton said.

The incidents did not follow a pattern.

"Some fires are set inside the vacant house, others are set outside. In some cases, offenders have used vegetation or dried leaves, while others make use of rubbish left lying around," Murton said. "The majority of incidents appear to be opportunist fires. We're confident we are not dealing with a firebug or serial arsonist."

Residents were urged to be vigilant and report any sign of suspicious activity around vacant or red-zoned properties, which were "always a potential target for arsonists".

"Anyone who sees suspicious activity around vacant properties [should] contact police urgently."

Police were working with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and the Fire Service to identify risk areas and take preventive measures.

This included increasing foot and car patrols through areas where homes have been vacated, particularly at night when most of the fires had happened.

"We're also working with groups such as Community Watch who can help be the eyes and ears in local neighbourhoods."

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Acting Cera chief executive Warwick Isaacs said most of the recent fires did not involve red-zoned properties.

However, it was "working through the clearance process" which would reduce the number of properties at risk.

"So far 2984 homes have been approved for demolition or relocation, with 2551 of those completed [as of Tuesday night]."

Aaron James Swan, 28, was this week charged with last week's arson of a recently vacated Birchfield Ave, Dallington, house. He entered no plea and was remanded to a later date.

- The Press

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