Police suspect an arsonist set fire to auto dealership hours before officers were to execute a search warrant there Thursday.

Before police made their move, fire broke out just prior to 1 a.m. Thursday at 5 Diamond Motors at 925 Provincial Rd.

According to Windsor Police spokesperson Sgt. Brett Corey, the Windsor Police Service, OPP and RCMP, in co-operation with the Motor Vehicle Industry Council, are actively involved in a "joint forces operation" investigating two Windsor auto businesses, including 5 Diamond Motors.

Police identifed Big 3 Pre-Owned Auto Sales at 1707 Tecumseh Rd. W. as the other business being investigated. Police were to execute a warrant there, too, Thursday but had not done so by late afternoon. Police said they have made the arson investigation their new priority.

As a result of the ongoing joint investigation, Jamal Hazime, 42, and Alex Bakir, 32, both of Windsor, are already facing multiple fraud and forgery related charges.

Both accused have been released on bail with numerous conditions.

Corey expects more charges to be laid.

Windsor Police Staff Sgt. Gerry Corriveau confirmed to CBC News that officers found gas cans they believed to have contained gasoline immediately inside the dealership. Corriveau said officers also found what appears to be a flammable substance spread around parts of the dealership.

"We believe it’s arson from initial investigation of the scene," Corriveau said. "It appears someone spread some type of flammable fluid and lit it on fire."

Broken glass surrounded two office chairs that propped open the front doors to the dealership early Thursday. A window was also broken. But police would not say whether the damage was caused by a suspected arsonist or firefighters who doused the blaze. 

Damage is estimated between $300,000 and $400,000.

Police are now guarding the dealership.

In 2007, Hazime became the principal owner of Windsor Mitsubishi at 925 Provincial Rd. when the company was expanding in Canada.

Calls and emails to representatives of Mitsubishi Canada were not immediately returned Thursday.

With files from Katia Augustin, Cara Campbell