The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 13, 2013

Conneaut factory fire probably ‘suspicious’

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — A fire that leveled a vacant commercial building in Conneaut on Monday may have been deliberately set, officials said.

While the cause is still being studied, investigators are “leaning toward suspicious,” said Assistant Fire Chief Steve Sanford. The big building was not serviced by any utilities, including electric, he said.

The former Crawford Container building on West Jackson Street was apparently doomed from the start. Firefighters on the first truck to arrive reported flames were shooting out of every window and door, Sanford said.

No attempt was made to enter the decades-old building, Sanford said. “They went right into defensive mode,” he said.

Firefighters were back at the scene Tuesday morning, dousing small fires found beneath rubble pushed around by heavy equipment brought to the site from the city’s Public Works Department, Sanford said. An agent from the state fire marshal’s office also examined the site, he said.

The building was completely destroyed by flames fanned by strong winds, firefighters said. Wood floors and columns helped fuel the blaze, according to reports.

Because of the extent of damage, investigators will have a hard time pinpointing the origin of the fire, Sanford said. No damage figure has been set, he said.

State inspectors are trying to pin down the ownership of the building and whether it was insured, Sanford said.

Contents of the building were sparse, primarily some old machinery and metal containers, Sanford said. At one time, a can manufacturing business was housed in the building, which had been vacant and in a state of disrepair for many years.

Firefighters are no stranger to the building. A few years ago a section of the building collapsed, and last year vandals are suspected of breaking into the building and starting a blaze that caused $10,000 damage.

The building that burned Monday night was about 100 feet-by-300 feet in size, firefighters said. Personnel and apparatus from several neighboring fire departments were dispatched to the scene, along with off-duty Conneaut firefighters. The blaze was reported around 6:40 p.m., and some units didn’t clear the scene until after 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Fire scorched two utility poles across the street from the building, but another commercial building opposite the blaze was unharmed, according to reports.

Conneaut City Manager Tim Eggleston on Tuesday thanked all the departments who gave assistance. “Some of those firefighters are a little ragged today,” he said.