More than two years after fire gutted a home in Lacombe, a woman living next door says the property remains an eyesore and she’s fed up about it.
Mackenzie Sondrol says May 7, 2016 started out as a normal day, but after she took her kids to school she returned home to notice workers at a vacant home next door.
She says one of them came to her door and asked how many kids lived in her home. Not thinking, she admitted there were two before the person went back to the neighbouring house she says had been empty for a couple months because it couldn’t sell due to black mold.
Sondrol says it was around 6 p.m. that her husband headed out to an event while she put her kids to bed. A few hours later, things took a scary turn.
At around 11 p.m. Sondrol says the ground shook and she heard a beeping sound coming from the empty home next door. The next thing she knew the neighbouring residence was on fire and there was smoke everywhere.
Sondrol and her boys escaped unharmed while her home suffered some damage from the blaze, which she claims was caused by a home-made bomb.
She feels the owners of the residence were responsible for the fire, believing they did it for insurance money.
“No one seems to know whose responsibility it is. We’ve talked to the City and they put us onto bylaw, who put us over to the fire department and we've kind of just gotten to the point where we're sick of calling around,” says Sondrol, who believes that at some point last winter, a homeless person was squatting in the seemingly abandoned house.
“We’ve had to lock our house down,” she continues. “I’ve had my window open and someone’s talked to my dog over the fence in the middle of the night. Now that it’s boarded up, I feel more safe, but every once in a while we go check that no one’s kicked in the upstairs window because that's how they were climbing in. Everyone watches out for each other in this end of town, so that's a positive thing about living over here.”
She also says it’s unfair that the house still sits unkempt when a property closer to the downtown surely wouldn’t have been allowed to do so.
City CAO Matthew Goudy says the City couldn’t do anything with the property while an investigation was ongoing, but they are aware of its current condition.
“Since this came to my attention about a month ago, I have spoken to council about it, and at this time we're working with our solicitor and our bylaw enforcement team to achieve compliance on that property,” he says. “It’s not a quick process, because certainly someone who has experienced loss through fire, we require them to make the building habitable, however they have to be given a reasonable opportunity to achieve that compliance. It is going to take some time to work through that.”
Goudy acknowledges Sondrol’s frustration, but adds, “I can say with full genuine sincerity that we are working diligently and will achieve compliance on the property. We just have to work through a legal process to do that.”
Sondrol says the situation with the property next door has made it impossible for her family to sell their home. She also claims her property value has gone down while property taxes have gone up.
But Goudy says those things don’t necessarily correlate as property values have decreased in most communities.
Lacombe Police Service investigated the incident as a possible arson but closed the case in August 2017.
“There were persons of interest identified but nothing led to charges or suspects,” says LPS Sgt. Brian Zens. “There were two complaints of the building being vacant and insecure, so the property owner was contacted to ensure it was properly secured. There were no specific complaints of a homeless person living in it following the arson investigation.”
Lacombe Fire Chief Ed van Delden says while the fire appeared to be an arson there was no bomb involved as Sondrol claimed.
A source tells rdnewsNOW that since the investigation took place, an insurance claim from the property owner has been denied.
There's still no firm timeline as to when the City of Lacombe hopes to have the property brought back in order.
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