Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford is raising concerns about the safety of firefighters and residents after a string of suspicious fires in the city’s old north end.

Fire crews were called to a three-storey apartment building at the corner of Main and Elgin Street around 4 a.m. Thursday. 

Clifford says the vacant building is under renovation and the fire looks to be suspicious.

“We have had a number of suspicious fires in the area as of late, and it's very concerning,” Clifford said.

No one was injured, but Clifford is worried they might not be so lucky the next time they’re called to a fire and made a blunt warning Thursday.

Clifford says fires in vacant buildings pose a serious risk, and he's worried about the potential of a tragic outcome.

“The risk to people’s lives is substantial and that would be the real tragedy, if we lose somebody’s life,” says Clifford. “There’s a very real possibility that somebody’s life could be ended, whether it’s firefighters or civilians.”

Clifford says a number of fires are under investigation, but no arrests have been made.

Neighbours in the area say the root of the problem is the number of vacant and boarded-up buildings, which are becoming a magnet for vandals.

People who live in the area worry that a fire like this could spread, quickly.

“All it would is the wind to go the wrong way, catch one of the roofs on an older building and the whole neighbourhood would go.  I've discussed this with several people.   They don't know what to do,” said Saint John resident Tyson Ardo.

All through the neighbourhood, there are rows of boarded-up buildings, which could become a target for vandals.

“I, myself, am a carpenter, and to see buildings like this in my own neighbourhood in disrepair and too many derelict buildings, absolutely it's a safety issue,” he said. “So there's plenty of things they could do with these houses, but they just sit here, unoccupied, and it makes the neighbourhood look like a ghetto.”

The building that caught fire Thursday is heavily damaged and Clifford says it will likely have to be demolished.

A lot of people who live in this neighbourhood are wondering which building is next, because there is simply no shortage of vacant, dilapidated buildings that have been sitting in this condition, for years.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron.