Police are probing whether an anti-mask motive came into play in the arson of toilet paper and paper towel sections in three Walmart stores in Kitchener and Waterloo this week.
Waterloo Regional and the Office of the Fire Marshal of Ontario (OFM) believe the fires on Tuesday night were deliberately set and are investigating them as arson.
The first fire broke out around 9:15 p.m. at the Walmart at the Sunrise Centre near Ottawa St. S. and Fischer Hallman Rd. in Kitchener.
About 45 minutes later, police reported a second fire at the Walmart near Ottawa St. and River Rd. in Kitchener.
The third came at 10:20 p.m. in Waterloo, at Walmart’s Bridgeport Rd. E. and Weber St. S. location.
Police spokesperson Cherri Greeno said fire crews extinguished the fires swiftly and there were no injuries reported.
Investigators are also aware of a social media post suggesting attacks. “Does anyone in Kitchener-Waterloo want to start attacking places like Walmart who are refusing Canadians service because they have a medical condition that isn’t COVID?” a Sept. 30 Twitter post reads. “Does anyone actually want to take the next step by actually fighting back. If so, message me.”
Greeno said Thursday that “investigators are looking into it to see if there’s any possible connection.”
Amro Sawalha, 18, was at the Walmart where the first fire broke out.
“I was walking down the aisles looking for Lysol wipes, until I saw an employee running and people running and walking away,” he said. “I saw the fire in the aisle that was right behind me. They asked everyone to leave and the fire alarm went off.”
Sawalha said his surprise turned to fear when he saw the flames.
“Toilet paper doesn’t just light up itself,” he added. “I was more scared that the fire would spread since it was close to flammable stuff like cleaning supplies.”
An OFM spokesperson told media at the scene, “We live in bizarre times. Think about where we are, here in October. If anybody had told you a year ago that this would be the norm, I don’t think many of us would really believe it. So I don’t really know what to make of it right now.”
Walmart Canada spokesperson Felicia Fefer said the three affected stores remain closed as staff carry out clean-up and repairs.
“This appears to be a criminal act that will unfortunately impact many of our customers and associates in the middle of the pandemic,” she said Thursday.
Anyone with information is asked to call police at 519-570-9777 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
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