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Published: Tuesday, 7/8/2008

Fireworks ignited South Toledo apartments

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Fire Chief Mike Wolever yesterday confirmed that fireworks caused a blaze early Saturday that destroyed nine buildings in a South Toledo apartment complex, displacing about 200 tenants.

The fire is believed to have started about 1:30 a.m. after fireworks landed on and ignited the roof of an apartment building at the Hunters Ridge complex on Gibraltar Heights Drive near Byrne Road and Airport Highway, the chief said.

Chief Wolever said remnants of four to five fireworks found at the scene are being processed as evidence. He said he is unsure of the exact type of pyrotechnics.

We ve ruled out everything else, Chief Wolever said yesterday after a news conference at Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Toledo.

There were no other heat sources or fuel sources in the area to cause the fire.

There were fireworks in the area.

The chief said investigators are relying on information from the public to aid the investigation. A $5,000 reward is being offered to anyone who can provide information to authorities that leads to the arrest and prosecution of responsible parties.

The three-story brick apartment buildings, built in 1977, were laid out in a staggered horseshoe pattern. Fire officials said the flames traveled along the attics connecting the buildings. One of the buildings was the apartment complex s office. Three other apartment buildings in the complex were damaged by the fire.

Chief Wolever said working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers were in the buildings.

The chief reiterated yesterday that the fire caused $5 million to $6 million in structural damage. He also said that insurance adjusters could increase the dam-age estimate based on personal belongings lost in the fire.

The State Fire Marshal s Office, the FBI, and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives will assist with the investigation into finding the person or people responsible for setting off fireworks that sparked the blaze, Chief Wolever said.

Police Deputy Chief Don Kenney, City Councilman Mike Collins, Assistant Fire Chief Luis Santiago, Fire Chief Mike Wolever, and city Chief of Staff Bob Reinbolt, from left, discuss the weekend fi re at the Hunters Ridge complex in South Toledo. Police Deputy Chief Don Kenney, City Councilman Mike Collins, Assistant Fire Chief Luis Santiago, Fire Chief Mike Wolever, and city Chief of Staff Bob Reinbolt, from left, discuss the weekend fi re at the Hunters Ridge complex in South Toledo.
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Deputy Chief Don Kenney said that in past cases, law enforcement officials have had to prove in court that the fireworks a particular person set off were the ones that caused the fire.

It s going to be a long process and a difficult process, he said.

Additionally, Chief Wolever said tracking down the people who lived at the complex and may have seen something the night of the fire is going to be challenging.

Many are staying temporarily with relatives, while others are searching for or have already found other housing.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said the investigation into the fire will continue no matter how many weeks or months it takes.

We will not drop it, he said. We re not going to forget about this incident.

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre suggested Sunday that Ohio ban the sale of fireworks in an attempt to prevent similar tragedies.

In Ohio, sparklers, trick noisemakers, and novelties may be lit without restriction.

Other consumer fireworks may be sold to state residents who sign an agreement to take them out of the state.

Mr. Finkbeiner said it is not reasonable to expect that the use of fireworks could be stopped.

I believe it is not possible to curb or curtail fireworks in every nook and cranny in the city and county, Mr. Finkbeiner said, adding that people should use common sense when celebrating the Fourth of July.

Chief Navarre agreed that it would be difficult to pass a law that makes it illegal to sell fireworks in Ohio.

I know it would be very difficult because it s a big industry, he said.

There s a lot of money to be made, Chief Navarre said.

Regardless, he said, if legislators were serious about eliminating injuries and fires caused each year by fireworks, they would begin by passing a law that bans the sale.

It doesn t make any sense to be able to legally purchase them yet it s illegal to shoot them off without a permit, Chief Navarre said.

To simply put a burden on the local police department to enforce a law that says you can t use them is ludicrous. We can only do so much enforcement.

There were 10 citations issued in 2006 for illegal use of fireworks, four in 2007, and three so far this year, not including the holiday weekend. Deputy Chief Kenney said those totals are not available.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 419-255-1111 or Fire Investigator Andre Tiggs at 419-245-1131.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Laren Weber at:lweber@theblade.comor 419-724-6050.



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