Hamilton police and the Ontario Fire Marshal are investigating after a “suspicious” fire in Hamilton’s north end claimed the life of a woman and two dogs.
Police said the blaze started in an upstairs apartment in a residential building on the corner of Beach Road and Gage Avenue North at around 7:20 p.m. on Monday.
Hamilton fire Chief Dave Cunliffe told Global News the blaze was “a well-involved fire on the second floor” with heavy smoke and flames visible.
“It was reported by people on the scene that there were residents still inside,” said Cunliffe. “Crews immediately started an aggressive interior search and rescue and fire suppression operations. One person was assisted out of the building on the first floor by firefighters.”
In a media conference on Tuesday morning, Det. Sgt. Peter Thom said a woman was recovered from one of the upper-level apartments without vital signs and transported to the Hamilton General Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.
The victim has not been identified, but a post-mortem is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. At this point, police believe she died from smoke inhalation.
Two dogs were also pulled from the residence and did not survive.
Thom said it appears the unit was being used as a “transient type of flophouse” with multiple people living there at a time, and investigators believe the woman was “couch-surfing.”
Thom said the investigation revealed the fire may have been deliberately set and that a male occupant and his female friend were seen running from the building shortly before 911 calls were received.
He said the major crime unit began trying to locate the pair, and at around 2:15 a.m. on Tuesday, they returned to the scene and were arrested.
The two people have since been released unconditionally, and although it’s too early in the investigation to determine if charges will be laid, Thom said they’re keeping an “open mind” as they wait for the Ontario Fire Marshal to determine the cause of the fire.
“At the moment, we acted on the information we had, we had reasonable grounds to apprehend them,” said Thom. “If we have to re-interview them or have them back in, that will happen.”
Investigators are looking into an ongoing landlord-tenant dispute that had developed before the fire. Although the homicide unit may be called in to investigate, Thom said it’s still early and is currently being treated as a “suspicious fire death.”
Thom also said it doesn’t appear the victim was involved in the dispute.
Police will be executing a search warrant at the property and will be on the scene for the investigation for the rest of the day Tuesday and possibly overnight.
The Ontario Fire Marshal is investigating how the fire was started.
It’s the first fatality involving a fire in Hamilton in 2019.
Anyone with information is asked to call Hamilton police at 905-546-2920.
—With files from Gabby Rodrigues