Tenants from suspicious Mary St. fire 'crying and confused,' says building owner

While police are still investigating Friday's suspicious fire at a 40-unit apartment building in downtown Barrie, the displaced tenants are trying to piece their lives together following what may have been an intentional act. 

Friday afternoon’s fire on Mary Street remains under investigation by Barrie police. Detectives have asked the public for any surveillance video, from between 1:15 and 1:45 p.m., that may help them find two persons of interest who were in the area around the time of the blaze.

While detectives try to get to the bottom of what happened, Rob Hilton has been hard at work trying to help the people from the 10 units who have been unable to go home.   

The owner of A.G. Secure Property Management, Hilton was on the scene Friday speaking to emergency personnel and his tenants.

“I’ve slept seven hours since Friday, but I’m really more concerned about our tenants who are out of their homes right now,” Hilton told BarrieToday on Monday. 

Hilton said he was at the building Saturday morning to help people headed to other accommodations with whatever personal belongings they could take. 

“The Red Cross has set them up at a hotel for four days, taking care of their lodgings and giving them some vouchers,” he said. “After the four days, it is unknown what happens to some of them.”

The affected units may not be ready for another eight weeks, Hilton added. 

While Hilton and his team have been calling the David Busby Centre and other organizations in the city as a back-up plan, he said so far only three are not going to need that option right now.

“One person has family to go to and the other two have tenant insurance. I cannot stress enough the importance of tenant insurance,” he said. “That insurance will take care of 100 per cent of the costs, including accommodations.

"Seven people right now are not sure what they’ll do when the Red Cross help runs out," Hilton added. 

A.G. Secure Property Management manages more than 600 units in the Barrie and surrounding area.

While it is a business, Hilton says he has a hard time not connecting with the tenants.

“This is not a high-income building and some of these folks don’t have anyone to lean on after a situation like this,” he said. “We have tenants with physical and mental health issues who are crying and confused, and I’m limited to what I can do.”

Hilton’s company has been able to give tenants back some of their rent money.

Emergency crews responded to the call shortly before 2 p.m., Friday. 

At that time, Barrie Fire Chief Cory Mainprize told BarrieToday several people were evacuated as soon as first-responders arrived, with one person trapped in their third-floor apartment at the rear of the building. The woman was rescued from a window and taken to local hospital as a precaution. 

On Friday, BarrieToday also spoke to a man who said he lived in the apartment where the fire started. 

“I was out getting coffee and I came back to see all of this chaos," he said. My girlfriend was rescued from our apartment and when she came out she told me that someone lit a fire on our door. I don’t know who would do that, but I hear it was gas poured on the door and on the floor in the hall.”

Whether the fire was deliberately set has not been confirmed by police or fire officials. 

If those allegations are true, however, Hilton said they would make the situation even harder to swallow.

“The residents have heard it was set intentionally, and now they are the ones suffering,” he said. “They have enough to worry about, now someone has forced them from their homes and in no way was it their fault. That is hard for them to grasp.”

All in all, Hilton believes the best thing to have come from the incident was the handling and response. With the smoke alarms working, tenants were alerted. He was also happy there were no further injuries.

“Many of our tenants have mobility issues and some mental health concerns, so I was very happy to see other residents helping get them out of the building,” said Hilton. “If there is a silver lining, maybe that's it.”

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