'Intentionally set' fire at Kitchener Walmart caused approximately $3 million in damage: police
Kitchener fire fighters and Waterloo regional police were called to a fire inside the Walmart at the Sunrise Centre in Kitchener just before 9 p.m. Thursday.
Fire officials say a small fire was intentionally set in the toilet-paper aisle.
The flames were mostly put out by Walmart staff before crews arrived. No one was hurt.
According to a release from police on Friday morning, crews were orginally called to another fire that was set in a garbage bin outside of the shopping centre, and then received a call about the fire inside Walmart. Officials said both fires were intentionally set.
A 42-year-old Kitchener woman has been arrested and charged with arson - damage to property, arson - disregard for human life, mischief over $5,000, theft under $5,000 and obstructing police. She was held for a bail hearing.
According to police, the fire caused an estimated $3 million in damage to the store.
Walmart Canada said the store is currently closed for clean-up and repairs and will reopen as soon as possible. Staff will be paid for their scheduled shifts and will also be offered the opportunity to work in neighbouring stores.
“We are shocked and very disappointed. This latest incident is unacceptable and we will do everything we can to work with officials as they investigate further,” Walmart Canada said in a statement.
Alina Alfaro said she was at the store after working a 12 hours shift at the hospital when the fire broke out. She was trying to buy a gift for her sons fifteenth birthday, but instead was forced to leave.
“Suddenly I see staff running, and really they were going for the toilet paper aisle, and as I was walking by, there was a lot of smoke. A lot of panicked people,” Alfaro said. “People were quite upset because they had been there for a bit now, done their shopping, their carts are full, and now they can't pay for it, they have to get out.”
Alfaro said a lot of nearby families and residents rely on the store and will now be forced to go somewhere else.
“Some families don't drive, so they do a lot of walking to pick up their groceries,” Alfaro said.
“I shop here every day and when I come here I need something right away. And it's always here,” Walmart customer Bernie Ertis said. “I think it's absolutely disgusting that these people who have nothing to do can think of nothing better than to set fire to a place which the public needs.”
The Sunrise Centre Walmart was one of three locations forced to close for nearly a month last October, after alleged acts of arson.
Walmart officials said the store was completely restocked and repaired following the last fire, but the new incident will again impact customers.
“The first thing I thought, not again you know we can't be closing this down,” Alfaro said.
Fires also started in the toilet-paper sections at Walmarts on Bridgeport Plaza in Waterloo and River Road in Kitchener the same night. Officials said damages exceeded $12 million.
Two people were charged in connection to those fires.