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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

Electrical cause suspected in fire

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Debbie Jaegle, director of religious education at St. Joan of Arc School on Heatherdowns Boulevard, helps Gabe Mueller, 14, choose a hat from among items donated to help fire victims. Gabe's mom's apartment was destroyed in Monday's fire. Debbie Jaegle, director of religious education at St. Joan of Arc School on Heatherdowns Boulevard, helps Gabe Mueller, 14, choose a hat from among items donated to help fire victims. Gabe's mom's apartment was destroyed in Monday's fire.
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After sifting through the rubble of Building B at the Hidden Cedars Condominium complex in Springfield Township yesterday, investigators said they think they know what caused Monday's blaze that destroyed the structure and caused $2 million damage.

The fire began in the living room of the lower-level apartment of Rance Williams, township Fire Chief Barry Cousino said. And while residents originally suggested it started in the kitchen, the chief said there was no evidence of that.

The official cause was ruled undetermined.

But Chief Cousino said there were several electrical hazards in Mr. Williams' living room - extension cords and homemade electrical components, a hot plate, and at least two space heaters.

"We can't pinpoint it to one electrical device," the chief said. "It could have been any one of those hazards."

There was no evidence of any foul play, he said.

Springfield Township Fire Chief Barry Cousino surveys the damage at the Hidden Cedars Condominium complex.
Springfield Township Fire Chief Barry Cousino surveys the damage at the Hidden Cedars Condominium complex.
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Mr. Williams was treated at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center for burns. Another person, whose name was not available, was treated at St. Luke's Hospital for smoke inhalation.

Matthew Godfrey said he lived next door to Mr. Williams, "and he's a good guy and a good neighbor, but he's a collector."

He said the apartment was filled with odds and ends, "and I sometimes worried about that."

As investigators reached their conclusions, Zale Dubose, 25, was trying to reach some of his own: how to replace his belonging that became part of the rubble at what was once a 16-unit building at 2601 Garden Rd.

"I'm basically starting from scratch," he said from his temporary home at the Genesis Dreamplex on Reynolds Road.

"I just had the clothes on my back," he said the day after he watched on television as his home was destroyed by the blaze.

He said he was at the home of relatives when he got a call from a friend telling him to turn on the television, "and I watched it and I still am having trouble with it."

The biggest immediate problem is paying bills because, he said, he had separate envelopes with cash in each to pay specific debts. He said he is grateful for the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, which arranged for him to stay at the Dreamplex, a former Holiday Inn.

John Stevens, of Red Cross disaster services, said the organization arranged for people from four of the destroyed units to stay there overnight and yesterday gave them vouchers to stay two more nights.

Mr. Stevens said about a dozen adults were given funds for food and clothing and directed to places where donations were accepted to help those who were dispossessed by the blaze.

The local Red Cross helped 27 people, including five children, a spokesman said.

The Rev. Jeff Mittelstadt, of Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church nearby on Holland-Sylvania Road, said he went to the fire and told people the church would be open to give any assistance it could.

"When I got back here, there were already two piles of clothing," he said yesterday as a steady stream of people with items to donate continued to arrive.

He said a few people who had been burned out of their homes came in for items.

He said the generosity of so many people has been impressive.

When the needs of those from the fire are taken care of, the remainder of the donated items likely will go to some needy members of his church, the pastor said.

Sandi Shinaberry, principal of St. Joan of Arc School, 5950 Heatherdowns Blvd., said people also arrived there Monday night and yesterday to donate items for those in need.

She said the school's gym was outfitted with cots for anyone needing to spend the night, but no one did. She added that many area restaurants donated hot food, but it was sent to the Cherry Street Mission when it appeared it would go to waste otherwise.

She said "the generosity just keeps coming," and that the outpouring of help has been heartwarming.

Some people did take clothing and other items today, and the school intends to keep the donations available until 7 p.m. tomorrow for anyone from the apartments needing help.

The complex of 10 buildings was built in 1972. Chief Cousino said there were less stringent construction requirements back then.

"There were no firebreaks," he said, "and once the fire got to the attic, there was nothing to slow it down."

When firefighters arrived after the 6:06 p.m. alarm, they made an effort to extinguish the blaze. But firefighters also worked to make certain other nearby buildings didn't catch fire.

Brittanie Galvin, who lives in a building next door to Building B, said she took her pets and left for a friend's home after firefighters arrived.

She said she heard someone screaming and noticed smoke coming from an apartment next door. By the time she walked outside, she said, she could see flames shooting from the building.

Ms. Galvin and residents of other buildings returned to their homes through the day yesterday.

William Renwand, principal of Holloway Elementary School, said counselors were available yesterday to deal with problems any of the children might have because of the fire.

He said 37 students at the school live in the complex, but none lived in the building that caught fire.

Chief Cousino said he based the $2 million damage estimate on the damage caused by a fire that destroyed a 20-unit building at the complex in 2000.

The chief said water pressure was low at times, but it didn't impede the firefighting. The water is on a private line that connects with the county system along Garden.

Stephen Hartman, an attorney representing the condominium owners' association, said yesterday that, based on an informal discussion with most of the owners, it is likely that a new building will be constructed to replace the one destroyed.

Although the units are condominiums, he said many are owned by investors who rent them to tenants.

Contact Mike Jones at:

mjones@theblade.com

or 419-724-6096.



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