EAST LIVERPOOL - East Liverpool Fire Chief Bill Jones says a blaze that gutted the first floor of a vacant duplex apartment on Lincoln Avenue late Thursday night appears to have been deliberately set.
Firefighters were called to 684 Lincoln Ave. shortly after 11 p.m. after a neighbor saw flames coming from one half of the apartment house. A single engine with personnel quickly arrived at the scene, which is only two blocks away from the fire station on St. Clair Avenue. They extinguished the fire and cleared the scene by 12:45 a.m.
Though no evidence of an accelerant was found in the burned-out apartment, Jones suspects arson as the cause of the blaze. "They just used the materials that were on-hand," he said, which included old mattresses, clothes and other refuse left behind by previous residents.
Though gas service had been disconnected previously, AEP Ohio had to be called to cut power to the structure. Severe damage was evident on the first floor, with significant smoke and water damage on the second floor as well.
A condemned property warning was stapled to the rear of the building. Posted up front was a letter from the city Department of Planning and Development, dated June 22 of last year, declaring it to be a nuisance property and ordering owners Timothy and Loralei Chaffin of Negley to demolish or repair the structure within 30 days of receipt.
The neighbor living behind the house on Back Avenue, who did not identify himself, says the duplex has been empty for years. Nevertheless, the close proximity between it and his home prompted him to call the fire department as soon as he saw flames coming from a first-floor window. "I called because if this catches fully ablaze, my house will go, too," he said.
Firefighters had been called to the same location on New Year's Eve for a fire on the first floor of the other apartment, which caused far less damage. According to Jones, that blaze was also intentionally set.
Michael Bourne, who lives across the street, saw flames spreading quickly through the first-story windows as firefighters arrived. "It seems like it was awful, awful, awful fast," he said.
Bourne also recalled the Dec. 31 fire that damaged the other side of the duplex. Bourne pointed out the other houses he knows to be abandoned in the neighborhood and speculated on when they too might be set ablaze.
"It's just a matter of time," he said.