Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Investigations continue into three suspicious fires in L&A County

Greater Napanee Fire Chief Bill Hammond stands amid the wreckage of the Lennox Agricultural Memorial Community Centre on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

The work of Greater Napanee Fire Services at the Lennox Agricultural Memorial Community Centre building that burned down on Monday is set to come to an end today, barring any unforeseen complications.

The Lennox and Addington (L&A) County Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Greater Napanee Fire Services, Stone Mills Township Fire Department, and the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal (OFM) are continuing their investigations into three suspicious fires in L&A County that have occurred on and since Monday, Oct. 23, 2023.

This morning, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, Napanee Fire Chief Bill Hammond, standing beside the wreckage of the beloved and well-used community centre building, explained what his crews, along with those of the OFM and the OPP, are currently doing at the site. The building was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours Monday, as was a residential garage and the vehicle inside it at the Stone Mills Township home of the Lennox Agricultural Society’s secretary-treasurer.

“So we’re now at the point where we’re getting down to where they’re excavating,” Hammond said this morning, gesturing to crews working on the second floor at the front of the building.

“Our fire crews will then go in and wash down the floor, and they’ll be looking for evidence,” the fire chief continued.

“We should be wrapped up by 4:30 today, or 4 p.m., is what we’re being told.”

Asked whether the building will come down after the Greater Napanee Fire Services have completed their work on scene, Hammond said that decision won’t be up to him. He explained that the construction crews on site currently are contracted by the Agricultural Society’s insurance company. When Napanee Fire’s investigation stops, another company will be brought in to do the demolition.

On Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, the construction crews were brought in to take down a wall of the building for safety reasons. But that work was done painstakingly, and unlike a regular demolition.

“The operations are really delicate, surgical,” said Hammond.

“We have to make sure that we don’t damage any evidence or [fire] origin [information].”

Also on Wednesday, the L&A OPP announced a third suspicious fire in the county. While police said that fire was in Stone Mills Township and were asking anyone with information to come forward, the L&A OPP refused to release further information on the location of the fire. Kingstonist has learned that the third fire occurred on Curl Road in Stone Mills Township, just down the street from the second suspicious fire, the one at the home of the Agricultural Society’s secretary-treasurer. The L&A OPP confirmed this location with Kingstonist this morning.

The OPP, Stone Mills Fire Department, and Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal on scene at the second residence to experience a garage fire on Curl Road this week on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. Photos by Cris Vilela.

Pressed for information on any suspects in the cases, Constable David Yome, Media Relations Officer for L&A OPP, was tight-lipped.

“We have all available resources working on these files right now. Police are looking into all avenues of investigation. Police will only be releasing names if an individual is charged,” Yome said in response to Kingstonist inquiries.

“We will be releasing more information as soon as it becomes available.”

The Lennox Agricultural Memorial Community Centre, which was home to various sports and clubs, as well as a roller rink, and was formerly known as the Napanee & District Community Arena, has played a role in the lives of many in Napanee and L&A County, something Napanee Town Council discussed at their meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. Also at that meeting, councillors referred to a time capsule possibly being located in the building.

Asked about that matter this morning, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, Chief Hammond explained the “time capsule” in question most likely refers to a datestone, rather than a vessel in which items were stored to be discovered later.

“There were two articles that we found [referring to this], but the cornerstone or the 1955 stone was the representative of the time capsule that was put in,” he explained.

“So we’ve recovered that. Some say there’s something in it; we’re saying, ‘No, it’s a big chunk of limestone that has ‘1955’ in it,’” Hammond continued, noting that one of the articles the fire department found mentioned coins being put into the concrete at the centre ice point of the arena. However, those coins will most likely not be found due to the fire damage.

“When we’ve been tearing [down] the front office, we’ve been looking in the blocks,” the chief concluded, “but, again, back then the time capsule simply meant the stone, and it’s now at [Napanee Fire] Station One.”

Kingstonist will continue to provide updated coverage on the investigations into the three suspicious fires in L&A County, as well as the vehicle fire that occurred at Napanee District Secondary School on the night of Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, which the OPP have deemed suspicious, but not related to the other three fires. The OPP have not ascertained whether the third fire — the one on Curl Road in Stone Mills Township — is connected to the first two fires involving Lennox Agricultural Society-related buildings.

With files from Michelle Dorey Forestell.

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