Three fires, the largest burning an old bird seed factory at 225 North Main St. to the ground, ripped their way through Wellington early Sunday morning.
All of the blazes have been classified as arson by the Ohio State Fire Marshal.
No injuries to responders or residents in any of the events have been reported.
Just after midnight on Sunday, Wellington firefighters were the first of 16 units from four counties to respond to the fire at the bird seed factory. Flames also severely damaged a nearby building occupied by Salon Image.
A wall on the north side of the factory collapsed onto the railroad tracks, shutting down train traffic for several hours.
Power went out in parts of the northwest downtown area during the fire was but was mostly restored by Sunday evening. Depot Street will remain closed as the cleanup process begins.
Later on Sunday, it was discovered that arsonists unsuccessfully attempted to set fire to a historical residence at 138 Forest St. sometime the previous night. Occupants said they smelled smoke between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Saturday and closed their windows, unaware of the smell’s origin until waking up and seeing two spots of damage on the home’s exterior.
The Wellington police auxiliary building at 110 Kelly St. caught fire overnight at an as-yet-undetermined time near an air conditioning unit located on an outside wall. The building suffered exterior and interior damage.
A $5,000 reward has been offered by the Ohio Blue Ribbon Arson Committee for information leading to the arrest or conviction of those responsible for the fires. If you have a tip to offer, call the Wellington police at 440-647-2244, fire department at 440-647-2245, or state fire marshal at 800-589-2728.
A GoFundMe has been started for Salon Image owner Jamie Lynn at https://goo.gl/GxWsZ4.
Police chief Tim Barfield said the bird seed factory fire was declared under control around 2:20 a.m. Sunday. The following afternoon, small pockets of fire and smoke could still be seen popping up through the ruins of the building.
“When we got here, it was very, very hot,” Barfield said on the scene early Sunday. “We’ve just been trying to regulate things and keep people back from this fire. Our job was to restore some control when we showed up so the firemen can do what they do.”
One Wellington firefighter was taken to the hospital after receiving oxygen at the scene but is expected to be fine, said fire chief Mike Wetherbee.
“Our first 90 minutes on scene were devoted to concentrating to the south side of Depot Street,” he said while still fighting the blaze. “There was lots of heat. Our firefighter was only taken away for evaluation.”
Multiple residents were spotted dropping off bottled water for firefighters, police, and EMTs.
Resident James Cropp said smoke began to come in through the windows of his apartment on Johns Street Sunday morning.
“The fire must have been 80 feet in the air when I first looked and saw what was going on,” he said as he watched the flames from across the street. “The wind has shifted now but it was blowing right at my building at first. My building is probably 100 or so yards away from the fire.”
The weekend’s incidents are only the latest in several suspicious fires that have been reported in the village since last winter.
In December, a $5,000 reward was offered by the Blue Ribbon Committee for a house fire lit on Clay Street. Less than a half hour before that, a 2002 Dodge Dakota was found in flames on South Main Street.
In May, an outside vestibule at 126 Depot St. was intentionally set on fire.
While there’s no definitive proof linking all of the events, Barfield strongly suspects they could be related.
“We have those fires last year and now three more in one night?” he asked. “That’s just weird and completely out of the norm. I don’t know for sure, but this is all in the same area. Everyone isn’t an arsonist. Boys will play with fire but they’re not trying to destroy a building. I hope this is just one person and not six different people setting houses on fire.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
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