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Blaze deemed suspicious at vacant St. Thomas, Ont. group home

On Wednesday, at 6:30 a.m., fire crews received a call about a blaze at 57 Walnut Street, a former supportive living residence that has been vacant for a year. Credit: Walnut Manor Supportive Living Residence via Facebook

The fire department in St. Thomas, Ont., has deemed a fire that broke out in a vacant historic home in the city’s west end suspicious.

On Wednesday, at 6:30 a.m., fire crews received a call about a blaze at 57 Walnut St., a former supportive living residence that has been vacant for a year.

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According to fire officials, no injuries were reported.

“The building has been vacant for over a year and there was some bad damage as far as asbestos and mold on the inside when they closed it down a year ago, so I’m not sure of a damage estimate yet,” said Kim Destun, chief fire prevention officer for the St. Thomas Fire Department.

Read more: SWPH orders closure of St. Thomas group home over ‘significant health hazards’

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In July 2021, Walnut Manor had been forced to close after multiple significant public health violations were identified during an investigation conducted by Southwestern Public Health.

Health violations included extensive mold, sanitation issues, bedbugs and a severe rodent infestation which also led to food contamination, officials concluded.

All 26 residents were told the vacate the premises immediately, including two staff members.

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Police have been called in to investigate the fire.

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“If you have vacant buildings in your neighborhood, keep an eye on them,” Destun added. “If you see that there’s a vacant building that you know people are in and out of, absolutely give us a call, or call the fire department where you are, and we can have them secured and make sure this doesn’t happen.”

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