The cause of a fire that did at least $1 million damage, destroyed six South Toledo residences, and damaged seven others, is undetermined and may never be known, fire officials said yesterday.
"We can't rule out anything, but we're not continuing the investigation unless we get more information," Fire Chief Mike Bell said of the three-alarm blaze Tuesday in the 2400 block of Broadway.
Clues investigators need to help them determine how the fire began - such as indicators of problems with wiring or circuit breakers, burn patterns, or accelerants - were consumed by the flames, officials said.
The fire started in the rear of 2425 Broadway, which was rented by Claudia Vercellotti, a local coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She said research and documentation she has collected for nearly four years, including victim letters, were destroyed.
Fire officials said they don't plan to dig through the rubble because they don't expect to find anything that could help them determine how the blaze began.
No suspicious activity was reported before the daytime blaze, and they ruled out rumors that a barbecue grill started the fire.
"You can come up with all sorts of conspiracies. We're in the business of trying to determine fact," Deputy Fire Chief Bob Metzger said. "Nothing on that scene will identify what started that fire."
Fire crews yesterday remained on the scene, which was surrounded by yellow and red caution tape, to put out hot spots. The smell of burnt debris lingered in the air as utility workers installed poles and wires.
The displaced residents cautiously walked on unstable bricks, charred wood, broken glass, and other debris that represented all that was left of their homes. They searched for anything salvageable.
Small pink puffs of insulation and a few identifiable objects, such as a sink and singed hot water tanks, were scattered about.
In the clearing left by the fire lay a sunny view of the Maumee River. The vista was different from the one the day before, when smoke blocked the sun.
"I'm still in a fog," said Terry Burns, who returned to view the damage.
The 57-year-old Paramount Health Care customer service employee, like the other displaced residents, lost many sentimental things. For example, he finished his son's wedding album last weekend and showed it to him.
"I have a lot of family and friends who have given gracious offerings," he said. "But I'd rather be giving than receiving."
Ms. Vercellotti found a few partially charred news clippings in the debris and found her piano by locating its strings in the rubble. She sought her father's cremated ashes, which were once in a container atop the piano. She said she will rebuild her life and the local SNAP group will go on.
"It's going to take a lot more than a fire to end that," Ms. Vercellotti said.
She said she has no idea how the fire started. She said she left her home about 1:30 p.m., about 45 minutes before the fire was reported, and noticed nothing unusual before she left. Another resident in her building reported smelling something hours earlier, but said he didn't think anything of it.
Byron Stanger, the building owner, said a city worker notified him of smoke spewing from between his property and a neighboring house.
He thought someone was burning leaves until the worker said she saw flames.
Mr. Stanger said he ran to his building and grabbed a fire extinguisher, but by the time he went to put out the blaze, the flames were out of control.
Richard Linker and Jim Lutz examined the rental house they own across Broadway from the fire scene. The vinyl siding on their duplex was melted. Damage to the roof was unknown.
So was the cost of heat damage to four city fire engines and a truck, two of which had to be taken out of service. Deputy Chief Metzger said some of the damage included melted gauges on pumper panels.
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