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Published: Tuesday, 7/15/2008

Weston fire victims get helping hands

BY KATE GIAMMARISE AND JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Investigators from the state Fire Marshal's Office search for clues in Weston, Ohio, for the cause of the fatal apartment fire. Investigators from the state Fire Marshal's Office search for clues in Weston, Ohio, for the cause of the fatal apartment fire.
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WESTON, Ohio - Residents in this small Wood County community are lending a hand to help their neighbors displaced by a deadly fire.

"Quite a few" have wanted to help with donations, Mayor Howard Lashuay said.

Two men were killed and 28 people were left homeless by the blaze early Sunday at 13180 Maple St.

Autopsies on the victims were conducted yesterday at the Lucas County Coroner's Office. A spokesman for Dr. Douglas W. Hess, Wood County coroner, said he had not received the results or confirmation of the victims' identities.

Dr. James Patrick, Lucas County coroner, said because no dental records are available for the victims, DNA matches will be required to confirm their identities, "and that will take some time."

Relatives at the scene Sunday identified the victims as Jimmy White, 69, and Ronald L. Perez, 45.

The Weston Church of Christ is collecting donations such as clothing or small appliances. The Rev. Rick Broughton, the church's minister, said the congregation announced Sunday morning the church would be doing "whatever we could to help the victims."

Pastor Broughton said he knew one of the men killed in the fire because his family attended the church.

"Weston is a small community," he said. "Being a part of that community, we just wanted to do whatever we can to show God's love to folks. If we can do that in any way, we want to help out."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006, Weston's population was 1,646 people.

The blaze's cause has not been determined, although investigators with the state Fire Marshal's Office revisited the scene yesterday, said Shane Cartmill, a spokesman for the fire marshal.

He said investigators attended the autopsies and continued to interview witnesses and occupants of the apartment house. "They have a lot of witness statements to review and a lot of them are written in Spanish so they're waiting for a translator to go through them," Mr. Cartmill said.

Many of those living in the building spoke only Spanish.

He said smoke detectors were found at the house, although they were not working at the time of the fire. "No one heard nor was aware of working smoke detectors," Mr. Cartmill said, adding that the devices could have been disconnected or the batteries may have been dead. "It could just be any number of things."

Dan Van Vorhis, the building's owner, said the structure had working smoke detectors and that he updated them in June.

He was uncertain of how many smoke detectors were in the building, but it was "a bunch," about two to three per unit in the building's eight units, he estimated.

All 28 displaced residents now have a roof over their heads, some with family and some in hotels, said Erin Hachtel, director of the Wood County district office of the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. "No one is homeless right now," she said.

The Red Cross has provided emergency food and clothing through vouchers that pay for a week's worth of groceries and several outfits of clothing, Ms. Hachtel said.

Mr. Van Vorhis praised the quick response time of the Red Cross, which he said was on the scene during the blaze in the middle of the night.

"You don't understand the importance of the Red Cross until you are in a time of need," he said.

Normally, with this many victims displaced by a fire, the organization would set up a shelter, Ms. Hachtel said. However, she said lodging for employees of GreenLine Foods, which employs a number of the people affected by the fire, is being paid for by the company.

The company, at 12700 South Dixie Hwy., Bowling Green, issued a statement with its condolences to the victims' families, and thanking the community for "the outpouring of support that we and our employees have received."

The company said it would "make every effort to provide for [employees'] needs."

According to its Web site, GreenLine processes and markets fresh-trimmed green beans to wholesalers and distributors across the country.

Mr. Van Vorhis said he has rented to GreenLine employees for years, adding that the workers who lived in his building work in Florida in the winter and Ohio in the summer.

Financial donations to help fire victims can be sent to the Wood County Red Cross, 150 Gorrell St., Bowling Green, 43402. Donations of clothing and other items are being accepted at Weston Church of Christ, 13355 Center St., Weston, 43569.

GreenLine is encouraging donations to Global Connections, 519 Wooster St., Bowling Green, 43402.

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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