London fire, police raise alarm over rise in empty-building arson cases

London fire crews responded to a basement fire on Trott Drive on April 29, 2021. London Fire Department Twitter

London police and fire are both describing a recent surge in the number of arson investigations involving vacant or unoccupied buildings as a “concern,” with members of both services and the Office of the Fire Marshal investigating.

In the last four weeks alone there have been at least five such incidents: April 8 at the historic chapel on the former psychiatric hospital grounds at 850 Highbury Ave., April 13 at an abandoned home on Hamilton Road east of Adelaide Street, April 20 at a vacant residence at the southeast corner of the Adelaide Street and Windermere Road intersection, April 29 at an unoccupied house on Trott Drive near Western University, and May 2 at an unoccupied single-storey house on Hamilton Road at Horton Street.

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Estimated damage in those incidents totals at least $1.35 million, not including the chapel. London police told Global News on Monday afternoon that damage to the chapel is estimated at $50,000.

Police say there’s no information at this time to suggest any of the active investigations are linked but they are reporting that “a number of them involved vacant buildings or unoccupied residences at the time of the fire.”

“The increase in reported suspicious fires recently is certainly a concern for us,” says Det. Sgt. Ryan Million.

“We continue to remind members of the public to report all suspicious activity to police.”

Deputy Fire Chief of Fire Prevention and Public Education Matt Hepditch encourages all residents to be fire safe and discourages people from entering into vacant buildings.

“As per the Ontario Fire Code, all vacant buildings are required to be secured against unauthorized entry. Members of our community may report breaches of vacant buildings directly to London Fire at 519-661-4565.”

The fire department adds that there has been an overall increase in fires in London recently, which is “of great concern to the London Fire Department.”

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Officials add that anyone who will be away from a residence for some time or who has a vacant property should ensure doors and windows are locked, check-in at the location periodically, and let the property owner or landlord know if you will be away for a period of time.

Police ask anyone with information to contact them at (519) 661-5670 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

Click to play video: 'Ontario Fire Marshal investigating fire at Quality Inn in Peterborough'
Ontario Fire Marshal investigating fire at Quality Inn in Peterborough

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