Five fires raise suspicions
Official wants those living near vacant buildings to keep eye out for odd activity Five fires raise suspicions Razed BY CINDY STAUFFER, Staff Writer
Five fires have broken out in a little over a month.
All were in abandoned or partially occupied buildings, some in secluded areas of Lancaster County.
All caused thousands of dollars in damages, but no deaths.
Local fire officials are asking the same questions.
And they are a little anxious.
"Do we absolutely have a firebug?" said Neffsville Fire Chief Mike Elliott, whose company fought a fire in a vacant mansion in Manheim Township. "I don't know the answer to that. It sure causes concern that something is going on in the vacant buildings in Lancaster County."
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that, in a matter of weeks ... you have five fires. You would have to think something is going on there," said Manheim Township Municipal Chief Rick Kane, who oversees companies that fought the mansion fire and one over the weekend at a vacant factory.
The cause of one of the fires was ruled arson. The causes of two of the other fires still are being investigated. The cause of the other two fires was not determined, as firefighters and investigators did not enter the vacant buildings during the fires because it was too dangerous.
To see exact locations and video of the fires, please go to http://goo.gl/prDd0 or LancasterOnline.com Keyword:Fires.
State police fire marshal James DeWalt said police are involved with the investigations.
"It's always possible that they could be connected, or they couldn't," he said. "I don't know."
But local firefighters are on heightened alert.
"Even when one fire is ruled an arson, it is a concern," said Mountville fire Chief Dean Gantz Jr., whose company fought one of the fires at a partially occupied building near Mountville. "You never know if it's going to stop at just one.
"All of them together, when you start looking at the big picture, it definitely gives people a little more reason to be vigilant."
Kane said he hopes residents who live near vacant or empty buildings will keep an eye out for unusual traffic or people at the buildings, and notify authorities if they see anything.
For their part, firefighters will keep an eye out for anyone who regularly shows up at blazes, Elliott said.
"What is going on at this point?" he asked. "The answer is nobody knows but I would agree there are some concerns."
The fires include:
n A fire at a three-story Lancaster apartment building, 516 E. Chestnut St., on Feb. 25.
It followed an earlier fire in August at the building, which had been ruled an arson and critically injured one man and injured two other people.
Both fires are being investigated as arsons, but the investigations remain open, city police said.
The East Chestnut Street building has remained vacant and boarded up since the August fire. Its owners died in an October car accident.
The most recent fire started in a second-floor rear room of the building.
This actually was the third fire at the building, which also burned in July 1998, after a tenant left an unattended candle burning.
City fire marshal David Amico said investigators ruled out an electrical cause for the most recent fire because the building had no service.
n A fire at the vacant, 114-year-old Gammache Mansion, 1253 New Holland Ave., on March 22.
Firefighters arrived at the house, which sits back from the road, but did not go inside to fight the flames, as the house previously had been deemed too unstable to enter.
The fire was believed to have started on the third floor, based on where the flames were when firefighters arrived, Elliott said. The Manheim Township mansion had no electrical service.
Investigators determined the house was too unstable to investigate a cause, which was ruled undetermined.
n A fire at a building at 3885 Columbia Ave., which once housed two dry cleaning businesses, on March 29.
The fire was an arson, a fire marshal determined. Police estimated damages at $45,000.
The building, near Mountville, was occupied by a woodworking business whose operator was not there full time, said the building's owner, Jay Filling.
The fire followed a burglary at the building about six weeks ago, Filling said, in which some equipment was taken. Some additional items appeared to be missing after the fire, he said, as they were not visible in the building's rubble.
Filling said the building sits off the road and is secluded.
The building once housed Filling's Cleaners and later its operations were sold to Yorgey's Fine Cleaning. Yorgey's left the building several years ago.
n A fire at the vacant Stehli Silk Mill, Martha and Marshall avenues, on Saturday.
The 3:20 p.m. fire started on the roof of a three-story portion of the Manheim Township mill.
Firefighters used ladder trucks to extinguish the blaze from the outside. Its cause was ruled undetermined, Manheim Township police said.
Manheim Township Sgt. Tom Rudzinski said there is nothing to indicate that either the fire at Stehli or the one at Gammache were arson.
But Kane said he found the origin of the silk mill fire to be "bizarre."
"Somebody had to climb up the fire escape or get into the building to get onto the roof," he said.
It's also an odd place to start a fire if you want to burn down a building, he said.
Its owner has plans to renovate the mill into housing and other mixed uses.
n A Saturday fire at the vacant building that housed Penn Glass, 905 S. Queen St.
The 11:38 p.m. fire is still under investigation by DeWalt.
The Lancaster Township building has been vacant since the fall. Firefighters were unable to enter the building and fought the fire from the outside.
Jeff Rieker, one of the owners of the building, said Monday that officials had determined where in the building the fire likely started but he declined to provide details citing the ongoing investigation.
Fire crews were called back to the Penn Glass site Monday afternoon when debris caught fire just after 5 p.m.
Excavators were tearing down the building when the fire started.
Lancaster Township fire Chief Ron Comfort Jr. has the same questions as other fire officials.
"Whenever there is a group of similar fires, there is always a red flag put up," he said. "We do keep an eye on what's happening at the scene, if people seem to be commonly showing up.
"Right now I don't know if there are any links."
Amico, of the city, said, "It definitely makes you start thinking if something is going on in the area, when you see a rash of fires in that time.
"Everyone in the fire service probably thinks the same thing."