Arson could not be ruled out as the possible cause of a fire that destroyed two Dundas businesses in November 2012.
Although an Ontario Fire Marshal investigation classified the 10 Bond St. N. fire as “undetermined” because there were three valid theories that could not be eliminated as potential ignition sources, evidence of a possible arson was discovered.
The Centre of Forensic Science confirmed the presence of “heavy petroleum distillate” in three fire debris samples taken from inside the building where the fire originated, and inside a yellow 53-litre plastic container found hidden in cedar hedges outside the building.
“It is unknown the reason this item was placed in this location,” the fire marshal’s investigation report states.
More than 80 pages of reports and investigation notes were released to the Dundas Star News last week after a Freedom of Information request that took 14 months to resolve.
The Bond Street warehouse building was home to Prema Canada, which sells tire repair products, and Watson’s Engraving, a local sign manufacturer.
According to the investigation report, Hamilton firefighters responded to the scene shortly after 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 13, 2012.
“They noticed a yellow plastic diesel container in the front bushes. This appeared to be out of place and the police were notified,” the report states.
“Hamilton Police, based on information they have gathered, have criminalized the scene and are in the process of obtaining a Criminal Code Search Warrant.”
On Nov. 15 the search warrant was authorized and fire investigators located the fire’s “area of origin” in a south-facing section of the building used by Prema Canada.
The investigation was delayed due to a water pipe break that could not be shut off. Water had to be pumped out of the area throughout the night. A small fire in the structure re-ignited and firefighters were called back to extinguish it.
The next day, city crews shut off the water around 9:33 a.m. and the investigation continued under the police search warrant.
“Samples were taken from within an area of origin and will be forwarded to (Centre of Forensic Sciences) for analysis,” the report stated.
According to CFS analysis of three fire debris samples: “A heavy petroleum distillate and a trace amount of a medium isoparaffinic product were identified in items 1 to 3.
“Item 5…Approximately 10mL of a liquid sample obtained from a yellow gas container found hidden at the scene. A heavy petroleum distillate was identified.”
Notes in the CFS report state: “The identification of a volatile ignitable liquid in an item does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that a fire was deliberately set.”
Investigators found credible possible causes included malfunction of an overhead natural gas heating system controlled by an automatic thermostat; malfunction of the electrical system and “the intentional application of an open flame through human intervention and design to a combustible fuel package.”
Damage from the fire, which reached estimated temperatures exceeding 538 degrees Celsius, and fire suppression efforts made inspection of the electrical and heating systems impossible so investigators could not confirm or eliminate those potential causes.
With the CFS analysis, investigators state the arson hypothesis “could not be credibly eliminated as the ignition source for the fire.”
Parts of correspondence between the fire marshal’s office and insurance adjuster Crawford & Company Global Technical Services were included in the documents released.
“In anticipation of possible litigation, we would like a copy of your Fire Report and Investigation Conclusions relating to this loss,” general adjuster Ryan Lumbard wrote to the fire marshal on November 28, 2012.
The OFM responded that the investigation was ongoing at that time.
Four pages of correspondence between the OFM and insurance adjuster were exempted from release. Hamilton Police did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Price of fire site drops
Now an empty lot, 10 Bond St. N. is expected to be the site of a future residential development.
Formerly home to Prema Canada and Watson’s Engraving, the structure was destroyed by fire in November 2012 and demolished by its current owner by October 2013.
The property was originally listed for sale in the summer of 2009 for $1,009,000.
The listing was pulled shortly after the fire. In December 2013, the property was re-listed at an asking price of $595,000. The new asking price is $414,000 less than the original price. It’s been listed at that price for the past four months.
The now vacant 1.7-acre lot is being advertised as a “potential residential development site.” Property co-owner Len Lottridge consulted city planning staff five years ago regarding the potential for a six-storey condominium with 85 units and underground parking. Property co-owner Mary Lottridge, an artist based in Pender Island, B.C., statesin November 2013 that the property would go back up for sale.
“Neither my brother-in-law, Len, or myself are interested in pursuing a development project,” she stated.