The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 27, 2013

Meth labs found in Conneaut blaze that injures 2 firefighters

Arson charges may await two men burned in the fire

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Two Conneaut firefighters were injured battling a Tuesday morning house fire on Marshall Street that may have been started by a methamphetamine-making operation, according to reports.

One firefighter, Fire Station 1 Capt. John Chapin, suffered a possible fractured arm when he slipped on ice while dragging a hose to the blaze, said Assistant Fire Chief Steve Sanford. A second firefighter suffered a minor wrist injury but will not lose any work time, Sanford said.

Meanwhile, two occupants of the house face possible arson charges because the chemicals and products used to make the drug put first-responders — police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians — at risk, said Police Chief Charles Burlingham. State investigators are weighing the felony charges, he said.

Firefighters were dispatched to 99 Marshall St., around 7:19 a.m., Sanford said. The fire began in a second-floor bedroom, the same location where “several” one-pot meth labs were discovered, he said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Sanford said. He would not say if the labs were a factor.

“All options are being looked at,” Sanford said. “The state fire marshal’s office (is assisting) us and the police.”

The two suspects, ages 25 and 26, suffered injuries in the fire, officials said. The 26-year-old received a second-degree burn to his leg, while the other man suffered a first-degree burn on his wrist, Sanford said. A woman believed to be the grandmother of one of the men lived on the first floor and was not hurt, according to reports. Nearly a dozen cats and dogs were also living in the house, and one cat was revived with the help of a special animal breathing mask donated to the department, Sanford said.

An argument between the men and other individuals a short distance from the burning house led police to the suspects, Burlingham said. “They were watching about one block away,” he said.

One man ran when police approached but was quickly apprehended, Burlingham said. The pair were arrested on outstanding charges not related to the meth labs and are being held in city jail, Burlingham said.

The older man became belligerent in city jail when informed that arson charges were a possibility, Burling-ham said. A TASER device had to be used to subdue the man. He was later taken to UH Conneaut Medical Center to have the TASER barbs removed and the leg burn treated, officials said.

Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the bedroom and parts of the attic, Sanford said. There was plenty of smoke damage on the second floor and water damage throughout the house, he said. There is also a chance chemicals from the meth labs may have infiltrated the first floor, Sanford said. The labs were neutralized by a specially-trained Conneaut police officer, according to reports.

Personnel and equipment from stations 1 and 3 were at the scene, along with the ladder truck from Ashtabula Township Fire Department. A mutual aid agreement sends the township truck to every structure fire in Conneaut, firefighters have said.

Firefighters cleared the scene around 11:30 a.m., Sanford said.