KITCHENER -- It'll be a major effort to get three Walmart locations in Waterloo Region ready to reopen after they were damaged in fires.

The cleanup is taking place as an arson investigation unfolds.

The three locations caught fire within an hour of each other on Tuesday night. Police confirmed that the fire at each one started in the paper towel and toilet paper sections.

All three stores have since closed because of the extensive smoke damage to products inside. Fire officials told CTV Kitchener that all product at each location could be considered a loss.

The total damage is estimated at around $12 million. The stores will remain closed until the necessary cleanup and repairs are done.

An emailed statement from a Walmart spokesperson said the incident "appears to be a criminal act that will unfortunately impact many of our customers and associates in the  middle of the pandemic."

The company is working closely with police for the investigation and hopes to have the stores open as soon as possible, while working with officials to make sure they are safe and up to appropriate standards.

"Walmart will absolutely support our associates while the store is closed. They will be paid for their scheduled shifts and be offered the opportunity to work in neighbouring stores to support the community as customers turn to these stores for their local needs," the statement said in part.


A very similar case happened in Winnipeg back in August after fires were deliberately set at three locations there.

At the time, police had said they did not believe the fires were related to Walmart's mandatory masking rules, which had just come into effect.

The Waterloo Regional Police Service said officers couldn't speculate on a motive for the local fires, but said they are aware of the similarities between the cases.

They also said they are looking into a tweet sent in September that suggested action might be taken against the company.

"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[sic]?" the tweet read in part.

CTV News spoke to public safety analyst and former OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis, who said that tweet is highly suspicious.

"It certainly gives the police a variety of ways to progress in the investigation in terms of tracking the tweet, who responded to it, et cetera, and also the video cameras on scene, witnesses on scene," he said.

"There is a lot of investigative work to be done."

He said police behavioural scientists will likely be determining a suspect profile in terms of what type of person would commit such a crime.