When fire broke out Feb. 1 at the former Holmes Foundry property witnesses saw someone rushing from a derelict building as police and firefighters arrived.
Police located that person and concluded they were not a suspect, said Lambton OPP Const. Jamie Bydeley.
The blaze appears to be another example of vagrants trying to keep warm inside the vacant cement block buildings, Point Edward officials say.
At least three similar fires have occurred at the privately owned, 16-acre site, which has sat neglected for decades beside Highway 402.
“We’ve got a lot of concern with fires being started there,” said Point Edward’s CAO Jim Burns.
“All hazardous substances were removed years ago and what’s left is just cement and steel, but I am far more concerned about someone lighting a fire in there and the roof coming down on them. It is putting people’s safety at risk and our firefighters are being put in danger.”
Fires are one of the many frustrations the former industrial site presents for Point Edward, said Mayor Bev Hand.
“It’s a nightmare.”
The property bounded by Front, Exmouth, Christina streets and the highway has been an eyesore for years as lawyers battled over who owned it and who should clean it up.
It’s also prime real estate the entire community is eager to see redeveloped, says realtor Rob Longo, who has the acreage listed for $7million.
“Removing those buildings would really help with marketing it,” he said.
A group known as Point Edward Gateway Inc. was declared the legal owner in 2017, but Gateway lacks the money for demolition and cleanup.
So the village decided “to do the right thing” and pay an estimated $250,000 to take the buildings down and remove the brush, Mayor Hand said. In exchange, Gateway agreed to pay the village back once the land sold.
A demolition crew had begun the work a year ago when a Ministry of Labour inspector, concerned about contamination, issued a stop-work order before the buildings could come down.
Village officials appealed to the provincial government and MPP Bob Bailey for help without success.
Records show that former owner Chrysler spent $8.5 million cleaning up the foundry and removed over 6,000 yards of soil in 1989.
The village argued that asbestos and other hazardous materials have already been removed, and that one of the buildings was used as a warehouse that required less cleanup.
The Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Environment & Climate Change now says demolition can proceed, but with more stringent policies and procedures that could triple or quadruple the cost.
The village is still determining exactly what needs to be done and for how much, said Hand.
“My concern is that we went out on a limb for $250,000 and now it could cost us a lot more,” she said.
“How can a community of 2,000 people pay $1 million, if that turns out to be the price, especially at a time when money is really critical?”