SALEM - The state fire marshal's office ruled Tuesday's fire in a vacant downtown building arson, offering a $5,000 reward for any information leading to the identification of the person or persons responsible.
"Somebody's got to know something," Salem Fire Chief Jeff Hughes said Wednesday.
Shane Cartmill, public information officer for the state agency, referred to the reward as a Blue Ribbon Arson Reward, explaining that anyone with information should call the Division of State Fire Marshal at 1-800-589-2728, or call the Salem police or fire department.
"If anyone saw something out of the ordinary at or around the time of the fire, or, if they have heard someone talking about the fire with an unusual level of interest or knowledge, they should contact investigators with that information," he said in an e-mail.
A city police officer noticed smoke coming from the two-story structure at 229 E. State St. at 2:08 a.m. Tuesday and had dispatch notify the fire department. Firefighters encountered a lot of smoke when they made entry into the building and into the buildings on either side, including the old Rock City Tavern and the Old Hitching Post.
After some searching, they found fire in the first-floor rear storage room and were able to extinguish it, checking the rest of the building and the two adjoining buildings for any fire extension, finding none.
One firefighter suffered a minor injury when he and a fellow firefighter fell down dilapidated stairs in the two-story structure. No immediate medical treatment was required and Hughes said it appears he's going to be okay.
Because it's an ongoing criminal case, Cartmill said he couldn't discuss specifically what was discovered at the scene. An investigator for the state arrived on scene at 4:28 a.m. Tuesday
Gasoline was listed on the city fire department report as the type of material first ignited, with the cause of ignition listed as intentional. There had been no electricity in the building since 2006.
Hughes said his concern, which he's sure is the concern of all his firefighters, is "how many people we could have lost...you can't see anything and find out about the fact that you're surrounded by gasoline."
"The attack crews did a great job," he said.
The entire department was called in to help, with Perry Township called for mutual aid.
Hughes said anyone with information about the fire can contact either the police department or fire department and appropriate action will be taken. Call dispatch at 330-337-7811.
"I hope the person gets the book thrown at them," he said.
Northern Hancock Bank & Trust owned the building, which was insured, according to Capt. Scott Mason. Damages were estimated at $10,000.