Suspicious fires near Guelph prompt fire marshal to meet with police

The Ontario Fire Marshal is meeting with local police and firefighters to collaborate on solving a series of fires, 10 in all, in abandoned buildings in Wellington County. The fires, which are considered suspicious, started in October.
An abandoned farm house and barn just west of Guelph were destroyed by fire early Friday morning. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The Office of the Fire Marshal is meeting with the Ontario Provincial Police and local fire departments to collaborate on solving a series of suspicious fires in Wellington County.

Guelph firefighters were called to two separate fires at two abandoned buildings just five kilometres apart early Friday morning. That makes 10 suspicious fires in the area since October, though investigators say it's still too early to determine if the fires are linked. 

The OPP, Halton Regional Police Service, the fire chiefs of the local services including Guelph and Puslinch, and the Ontario Fire Marshal are meeting this week to discuss the fires, said investigator Andrea Gaynor.

"When the fire service attends, they're going to be looking at what vehicles are they passing, is there someone in the area that is asking them lot of questions? Is there some commonality that normally they wouldn't think about?" said Gaynor in an interview with Colin Butler on CBC K-W's The Morning Edition on Monday.

Gaynor notes that all ten fires took place in abandoned buildings without electricity or other fuel sources connected, which narrows down the cause of the fires. Since the fires have occurred in relatively remote locations, Gaynor said that suggests who ever started the fires had transportation to get there.
Andrea Gaynor is an investigator with the Ontario Fire Marshal. The office is investigating a series of fires in abandoned buildings in Wellington County. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

"Once you start eliminating certain things, you're not left with a lot. So, you know, we have to look at, is there transient people that are going around, are there trespassers, are there squatters? When the fire department goes there, they have to be cognizant of that,"

Number of fires 'not very common'

Gaynor said it is "not very common" to see so many fires in a relatively short time period. Her office isn't responsible for figuring out if the fires are linked; the fire marshal investigates the science and the causes of the fire, while it's up to police to determine if there's criminal intent and who, if anyone, is responsible.

"We're trained to be experts in fire science and fire dynamics. We have to look at the fire patterns, we look at what's left. We will take debris samples, we'll send those samples away to the Centre of Forensic Science," she said.

Gaynor said it can take from four to eight weeks to a few months for the results to come back, depending on the severity of the case, with fatalities taking precedence.

Tips to protect your property

Gaynor had tips for people who own properties with buildings that aren't being used, which could be at risk of fire.

  • Secure buildings – don't leave them unlocked, and make sure there's no way to get easy access.
  • Clear driveways for emergency services to gain access in case of a fire.
  • Put a motion-sensing camera up in trees that will operate when it detects motion.
  • Get a security camera that can send a feed to a smartphone so you can check in from a remote location.
  • Ask neighbours to keep an eye on your property if you're concerned and ask if they've seen suspicious vehicles in the area.
  • Don't smoke in farm buildings and keep buildings clean and organized.
  • Make sure buildings have adequate ventilation.
  • Install lightning rods and grounding cables.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.