The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 16, 2013

Man asked about Conneaut factory same day it burned down

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — A stranger inquired about the former Crawford Container building hours before it burned to the ground, Conneaut Fire Chief Steve Lee said Friday.

The old commercial building was destroyed in a “suspicious” fire that began early Monday evening, officials said.

Earlier that day, a man wearing a beard was asking employees at a nearby factory questions about the long-vacant building, Lee said. None of the workers recognized the man, and it is unknown if the man had any connection with the blaze, he said.

As of Friday, Investigators had not generated any leads and the blaze remains under investigation, Lee said. Because there were no heat sources in the building, investigators believe the fire was deliberately set, he said.

Lee said he believes the fire started on the west side of the 100 foot-by-300 foot building, in what used to be offices. The first firefighters on the scene reported seeing flames shooting out of every window and doorway. Less than two hours later, nearly all of the decades-old building was on the ground. More than a half-dozen fire departments in the Conneaut area sent personnel and equipment to the scene.

The building was nearly empty, except for a few pieces of machinery and some metal containers. At one time, the building had been used to manufacture cans. No estimated dollar figure on the damage was available.

Four days after the fire, the site is a mass of twisted metal and charred beams. The property owner will be given a reasonable amount of time to clean up for the site, Lee said. If no action is taken, the city will send a notice, he said.

Lee said he understood the owner is Edward Crawford, the chairman and chief executive officer of Park Ohio, which also owns General Aluminum, a Conneaut manufacturer.