Early morning fire at historic downtown London building deemed 'suspicious'

A fire in downtown London on Monday morning is being described as 'suspicious', according to investigators.

The 180-year-old white brick building is home to several London law firms

Crews doused hot spots following an early morning fire at 435 Ridout St. in London, Ont. on Sept. 24, 2018. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

A fire in downtown London early Monday morning is being described as "suspicious," according to investigators.

Fire crews were called just before 5:00 a.m. after smoke was spotted coming from a two-storey brick building at 435 Ridout Street.

The historic building is home to several London law firms.

"The biggest challenge was the heavy, heavy smoke that they encountered when they made entry," said Shawn Fitzgerald, acting assistant fire chief for the London Fire Department.

"Fire and smoke was coming over the heads of the first attack crew going in the front door. We had to ventilate the building, knocking out windows to get rid of the heat and smoke just so they could see what was going on."

Fitzgerald says no one was inside the building at the time of the fire.

Officials say damage is extensive, although a damage estimate has not yet been established.

Farhi Holdings Corporation released an online statement that suggested the property has recently been "a target of a number of vagrant break-ins."

The statement said "a considerable amount of money, time and effort had recently been invested … into the cosmetic renovation of the heritage."

Investigation underway

The intersection at Ridout St. and Queens Ave. was closed to traffic for several hours, but has since reopened. 

The London Police Service Street Crime Unit is involved in the investigation along with the London Fire Department and the Ontario Fire Marshal.

Anyone who witnessed suspicious activity in the area is asked to call police.

A heritage building

The two-storey white brick Georgian building was built on a stone foundation in 1838.

The building originally housed the Bank of Upper Canada until it was closed in 1865. The bank's manager, James Hamilton, bought the bank and made it his residence until he passed away in 1896.