Fires at Optimist Memorial Park appear to be escalating

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Residents of South Walkerville are growing increasingly concerned following recent fires at Optimist Memorial Park.

Over the last three weeks, Windsor Fire has responded to nine calls of brush fires at Memorial Park.

“The problem is, if you light a fire on the ground with all the leaves around, it could spread if we have a good wind. So we want to make sure that we get this person caught and stop this behaviour,” said Mike Coste, Windsor’s chief fire prevention officer.

Ward 4 councillor elect Mark McKenzie first started hearing concerns about an individual setting fires at the park in spring.

Ward 4 councillor elect Mark McKenzie and South Walkerville Watch Group Organizer Aaron Merkestyn in Windsor, Ont. on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. (Sijia Liu/CTV News Windsor)

“The main concern is that it’s escalating now,” said McKenzie. “It seems like it’s getting bigger each fire. It’s almost like a serial arsonist that we have on our hands.”

A group of residents in South Walkerville have formed a fire watch group in hopes of catching the culprit. Group members take turns walking through the park to monitor for suspicious activity. They say they have witnessed the crime numerous times.

“He is deforesting healthy trees, breaking them down and adding it to a giant bonfire. He will make a pile during the day, then come back and light it up at night,” said Aaron Merkestyn, organizer of South Walkerville Neighbourhood Watch Group.

Merkestyn is worried this individual will eventually start a large fire that spreads out of control if he is not arrested soon.

“We’ve heard him yelling that he’s going to light up the whole forest,” said Merkestyn.

Site of recent fire at Optimist Memorial Park in Windsor, Ont. pictured on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. (Sijia Liu/CTV News Windsor)

Police officers were seen at Memorial Park Monday and damage areas of the forest have been taped off.

“All suspicious fires are thoroughly investigated by our arson unit. We ask that if anyone observes suspicious behaviour in their neighborhood, call the non-emergency number and have a patrol officer come out to investigate. The Windsor Police Service does not promote or encourage residents to take matters of the law into their own hands,” said Windsor Police Service in a statement.

Merkestyn is hoping the city can implement some sort of park patrol program.

“We’re seeing fires all over the city as well. It’s just a matter of getting more police on the ground, more community policing,” said McKenzie. 

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