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Kitchener Fire believes woman was living underneath building that caught fire

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As temperatures take a tumble, those living unhoused are seeking shelter wherever they can to keep warm – but it’s not always safe.

Fire crews were called to a building on St. Leger Street in Kitchener Wednesday morning, where it’s believed a woman was living underneath.

Fire officials say her heating source may have caused the fire, and although she wasn’t there when crews made it inside, there are worries she may be hurt.

“There was a report of a female occupant,” Kitchener fire prevention officer Tom Ruggle said. “We were unable to find her onsite, but we suspect the cause of the fire was probably related to heating.”

Seven trucks responded to the fire at 216 St. Leger Street. The call came in at 5:20 a.m. When firefighters arrived, the back side of the building was engulfed in smoke and flames.

Fire officials say they were aware of reports that people might be living underneath the building, so they approached the fire accordingly.

“Crews had to cut a trench at the top of the building to stop the flame and smoke from migrating to the other side of the building to minimize damage,” said Patrick O’Halloran, the assistant platoon chief with Kitchener Fire.

Kitchener Fire said this isn’t the first case like this across the city.

“We had somewhere between 15 to 20 fires that were tied to folks either living rough or in encampments,” Ruggle said.

One of the most recent incidents was at an encampment in late December at Weber and Victoria Streets in Kitchener – deemed an accident.

Last week, an encampment fire near Cambridge shut down a part of Highway 401.

In the case on St Leger Street, the property owner says the building has been vacant for more than a decade.

He said although it's a lot to take in, he understands that people are simply trying to seek shelter from the cold.

“I’m sure they didn’t mean to do it, but they’ve caused me lots of damage,” said owner Ed McColough.

To prevent similar incidents from happening again, the fire prevention officer suggests those who are homeless make sure their heating sources are safe. He said their team tries to do outreach and provide safer alternatives whenever possible. 

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