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Fire victims in Timmins say thieves have stolen their personal belongings

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A month after an accidental fire forced more than 100 people out of their apartments at the Empire Complex in Timmins, residents are now dealing with being victims of theft.

Last month, they were forced to flee their apartments due to a fire and grabbed whatever they could, but had to leave much behind.

Since the fire, they said they haven’t been permitted back inside their units and have only been allowed to sift through what’s been brought out to them.

Sadly, they said, thieves have been breaking into the building and helping themselves to their belongings.

“I had three rifles stolen I was leaving for my kids,” said Lanny Reeb, a tenant of the Empire Complex.

“In the barrel of one of the rifles I had about (a signficiant amount) of gold saved -- shoved down the barrel — necklace and chains and all kinds of stuff. Thieves got in and took that.”

Reeb’s daughter Lisa, is his caregiver and lives in a neighbouring apartment.

Residents of the Empire Complex in Timmins shared their sadness and frustration after their property was stolen from their apartments when they were forced to evacuate due to a fire on March 23, 2024. (Lydia Chubak/CTV News Northern Ontario)

“His life is in that apartment and people went in there and took stuff that belonged to him,” she said.

“How can people steal from other people when they're under duress and everything else like this has been killing him since that happened? … If I lose my dad over this, it's going to be hell to pay.”

Winmar Restoration officials from Oshawa said windows have been boarded up, security cameras have been installed and two security officers have been hired to patrol the area. Still, thieves have found their way inside and Timmins police have received numerous complaints.

“Around 11 thefts just in the last 14 days alone,” said Sgt. Jonathan Minard of the Timmins Police Service.

Everything valuable is gone

“So we have seen an increase in property crimes and thefts at that location.”

One theft victim is a breast cancer patient who underwent a double mastectomy days before the fire.

“Everything that was valuable is gone,” said Linda Hann.

“So all my jewelry is gone, my laptops are gone, my PlayStations are gone. Like, you know, my mom was here. She's 72 years old -- she was my caregiver. You know, they stole her tablet. They stole all my money.”

Lisa Reeb is wondering where they can go for help.

“Who do we talk to about this? Who's responsible for all this?” she asked.

Around 50 people continue to live at the Ramada Inn until they can find new dwellings. They said they are grateful for all the help they’ve received from Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board, the City of Timmins, local businesses and residents.

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But they said they are in need of a resolution. And they want to be allowed back inside one last time.

“A lot of people (ran) out quickly and didn't get that” last look, said David Hopkins, another resident.

“It might help a lot of people with their emotional states.”

Winmar officials told CTV News that they are working hard to save the building. 

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