From across the street, Mary Detlef watched the charred walls of an East Toledo home — that just hours earlier was fully engulfed in flames — crumble under the force of heavy machinery.
The vacant home at 656 Forsythe St. is the most recent in a string of fires on Toledo’s east side. In the past week and a half, nearly a dozen vacant properties have gone up in flames. The Forsythe home was the second to be razed.
“There’s an arsonist out here,” said Mrs. Detlef, who lives one street away, walking toward the crumbling home. “It’s ridiculous.”
The call came into the fire department at 7:16 a.m. When crews arrived on scene, the home was fully involved, said Deputy Chief Gary Martin. Three other homes nearby also sustained fire damage, sparked by the original blaze at the vacant structure.
Authorities won’t say if any of the recent fires are related, only that the fires are “under investigation.”
Toledo fire Chief Luis Santiago has said most of the recent fires are arsons or “are at least pointing that way if not confirmed.”
In addition, the fire department Thursday announced it is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the arrest of individuals involved in the recent fires.
Fire dispatch also reported a fire at 810 Willow Ave. Thursday morning that was quickly extinguished.
The fire at 656 Forsythe caused three other homes to catch fire — fires started in the top levels of the two neighboring properties at 652 and 660 — and a home down the street at 639 Forsythe.
Deputy Chief Martin said embers possibly caught in the wind landed on the home setting fire to the roof.
All of the homes affected by the main blaze were occupied when they caught fire, but all occupants were able to escape and no injuries were reported.
Just after 7 a.m., Jeremy Gunn who lives in the upstairs apartment at 660 Forsythe, woke up and “looked out the window and saw a wall of smoke.”
He woke up his girlfriend, who is seven months pregnant, and hurried to get her out of the home. Then he went back to bang on the door of his downstairs neighbor, Felicia Monday, to wake her up.
“I don’t know what woke me up,” Mr. Gunn said. “It was like God’s finger flicked me in the head and said ‘Wake up.’ ”
Mr. Gunn said once everyone was out of the duplex he called 911 — four minutes later, he said, firefighters were on scene.
Ms. Monday was able to get her dog, BoBo, out of the home. Still in her pajamas and a bathrobe, she sat on a plastic lawn chair, watching firefighters douse the smoldering ruins, petting BoBo.
She said she has made numerous phone calls to city council and Toledo Municipal Court Judge Allen McConnell about the vacant home next door asking them to take care of the property.
Mr. Gunn said city workers were at the home in early spring and told him the home would be demolished in a couple weeks, but weeks turned to months and the house was still there.
“If they would have done that, this wouldn’t have happened,” Mr. Gunn said.
Jim Rowan, recreation supervisor in the Neighborhoods Department, confirmed that 656 Forsythe was on the demolition list, but the city was “waiting on ... the gas to be abandoned” which is done by Columbia Gas.
He said the request to abandon gas service was done in January.
Cousins Torri and Kelly Yates, who live at 649 Forsythe with Kelly’s four children, said the family was sleeping when smoke began to fill their home around 7 a.m.
“I thought it was our house because it was so filled with smoke,” Ms. Torri Yates said.
The family said they’re convinced the fire was set intentionally. The home, which they said has been vacant for about two years, was set on fire March 10, 2010.
Fire investigators determined that fire had been intentionally set.
On Sept. 23, Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Herr said Henry Lee Jackson, 42, was seen leaving the vacant home on Forsythe on March 10 as smoke came through the door.
Jackson, who was described as homeless and a squatter, was found guilty of attempted arson on Oct. 26 and was sentenced to serve 10 months in prison with more than 90 days credit.
Anyone with information on the fires is asked to call Toledo police investigative unit at 419-245-3142; Toledo fire arson unit, 419-245-1131; or Crime Stoppers, 419-245-1111.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: