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Published: Sunday, 7/23/2006

2-alarm blaze destroys warehouse at Bancroft and Auburn

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Firefighters pour water onto the three-story complex, which had been vacant for years. Firefighters did not enter the complex because it was considered too dangerous. Firefighters pour water onto the three-story complex, which had been vacant for years. Firefighters did not enter the complex because it was considered too dangerous.
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A massive three-story warehouse that was once used for manufacturing vacuum cleaners and holiday decorations but sat vacant for at least 10 years was destroyed yesterday by a two-alarm fire.

About 50 firefighters from Toledo battled the blaze at the warehouse, West Bancroft Street and Auburn Avenue, and two adjacent buildings for several hours. The Rossford Fire Department sent a truck and crew to assist.

Maumee and Sylvania firefighters provided coverage in other parts of the city while Toledo crews attended to the West Bancroft blaze.

Toledo fire Investigator Michael Smith said Greg Vnuck owned the building. Robert Krompak, executive director of the Ottawa Community Development Corp., said Mr. Vnuck recently purchased the structure, which had long been an eyesore and nuisance property in the neighborhood.

Fire Chief Michael Bell said Mr. Vnuck was doing some work removing a fixture inside the building when it caught fire. Fire investigators have ruled the blaze accidental.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Metzger said the damage estimate likely would not be determined until today.

Mr. Vnuck could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Firefighters await water to battle the blaze. Firefighters await water to battle the blaze.
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Chief Metzger said when firefighters arrived at the structure about 1:30 p.m., they saw light smoke coming from the building. But it quickly changed to heavy black smoke, with flames shooting from the roof.

In a matter of minutes, flames could be seen throughout the structure and a second alarm was sounded. The two adjacent buildings, which run along Auburn, also caught fire and sustained considerable damage.

Chief Bell said fighting the fire in the huge building was more of a problem than the fire's intensity. He said the buildings were considered "Code Red" structures, which means that firefighters were not allowed to enter them because of the buildings' poor condition.

Firefighters, instead, showered the structures from ladder trucks and shot streams of water through windows and other openings in hopes of keeping the blaze from spreading to other structures or neighboring homes.

The walls and roof of the building collapsed in several places, leaving piles of broken bricks stretched around the perimeter of the structure, making the firefighters' job even more difficult.

Chief Metzger said some parts of the building fell on top of material already burning, making it harder for crews to extinguish the fire until it burned through the collapsed material.

Jim Barfield, owner of J&B Automotive Repair Center, 2100 Auburn, was working in his shop and didn't notice anything wrong until he saw flames coming from the building.

"It went up pretty quick," Mr. Barfield said from his shop, across from the burning structures. "All I've got is a lot of smoke. I know things happen, but I'm glad they were able to get it under control."

The Salvation Army's Emergency Disaster Services vehicle provided refreshments to firefighters and emergency crews helping to douse the flames. Firefighters were expected to remain on the scene into today.

Mr. Krompak said the empty building had been on Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's "Dirty Dozen" list and was an aggravation for neighborhood leaders.

"I am not at all surprised," Mr. Krompak said. "We went through the building with a structural engineer about a year ago and he told us the building was structurally unsafe. It literally didn't have a roof in several places. We thought [Mr. Vnuck] was taking on an impossible task."

Mr. Krompak said he hopes the site can be cleaned up and redeveloped to benefit the neighborhood after years of neglect. "It's in a very good location for development," Mr. Krompak said.

The building was once the home of the Airway Electric Appliance Co., which assembled vacuum cleaners until 1957, according to The Blade's archives.

Craft House Corp. purchased the structure in 1963 to produce Christmas decorations to accompany its Westwood Avenue plant, which assembled paint-by-number kits. Door wreaths, tree ornaments, table pieces, trees, and sleighs were among the items assembled there.

In 1988, the Boat Safe Co. purchased the building to store boats and vehicles, according to Blade archives.

On June 23, 1964, a three-alarm fire in the same West Bancroft/Auburn vicinity caused $500,000 in damage to the Ensign Foundry Co. and D.H. Overmyer warehouse.

Contact Clyde Hughes at: chughes@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.



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