A Springfield Township condominium complex where two people were killed by a fast-moving fire has been plagued by five other blazes over the past dozen years.
None of the fires at Hidden Cedars Condominiums has been fatal until the inferno Sunday night that leveled the building and left about 30 adults and 39 children homeless.
The dead were identified by family members as Olandia Keith Dixon, 58, and Robert McGhee, 61. Autopsies are scheduled for Tuesday; Lucas County Coroner Dr. James Patrick Monday night said the two victims had not yet been positively identified.
RELATED ARTICLE: History of fires at Hidden Cedars Condominiums
Springfield Township Fire Chief Barry Cousino — who coordinated the three-hour, multi-department effort to get the blaze under control at Building G at 6201 Garden Rd. — said he was not expecting to be back at the complex so soon after a major fire on Oct. 4, 2009, that destroyed Building J — an 18-unit building — and left 34 residents homeless.
Some of the fires have been suspicious; none of the cases with the Ohio Fire Marshal’s office has been closed, including Sunday’s incident, which remains under investigation.
Chief Cousino said Monday night that investigators believe the blaze started at the south end of the building in one of the lower levels.
Arson and the possible use of accelerants have not been ruled out.
“We are certainly taking into account any cause. We have not eliminated (arson) as of yet,” Chief Cousino said. “One of my concerns is how quickly it spread. To me it seems like it may have had a little help. But we have not determined anything.”
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Chief Cousino said about 50 firefighters were on the scene, with crews from Toledo, Sylvania Township, and Monclova Township assisting his department.
Authorities blamed poor quality construction without fire safety measures in the decades-old buildings for the magnitude of the fires over the years.
Chief Cousino said the early-1970s building construction contributed to the fire moving swiftly through the three-story building. The structure did not have fire breaks or stops in the attic. He said the building was assembled in pre-manufactured modules that were stacked on top of each other, “which created a lot of voids, both horizonally and vertically” and “the attic space was one common attic space. That is where typically the fire stops would have been placed,” he said.
He said the building’s common areas, such as lobby and hallways, are inspected annually to assure that fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and exit lighting are working. He did not know the date of the most recent inspection.
“With fire regulations under the 1970s, with any fire incident in the building, [fire] spreads pretty quickly. I think this is the fourth building that has been lost there in 12 years. Four buildings lost completely in 12 years,” he said.
He said two buildings in the complex have been rebuilt with the current fire code standards and there are four other buildings remaining at the site after the most recent fire.
Phil Klocinski, Lucas County building official, said building codes are far more stringent today than they were in the early 1970s when the condominiums were built.
“There is a state code now based on international building codes, and I think we build much safer buildings,” he said, adding that there are now requirements for fire suppression systems and fire breaks.
The county’s building regulations department inspects new buildings as well as buildings that have been altered, repaired, or added onto, but would not have had occasion to inspect the one that burned, he said.
Vanessa Autry, 54, who lives in the same complex, across the street from the building that burned down, said her brother, Mr. Dixon, died in the blaze.
Ms. Autry said Mr. Dixon recently had a stroke and never left the building unless he had to see a doctor. She spoke to her brother on Sunday and because he had a cold, she told him to stay inside. She has not heard from him since the fire.
Ms. Autry said she and her brother moved to the complex in September from Detroit.
“And this is what happened. Maybe we should have just stayed in Detroit,” she said, adding that family members are traveling to the scene from Detroit.
Dynasty Darden, 16, granddaughter of Mr. McGhee, said her family still had not officially heard from firefighters late Monday but they were sure he was one of the two killed.
Miss Darden said she ran out of the burning building with Mr. McGhee, only to see him go right back in to try to rescue her mother, Kenya McGhee, 36 — who jumped from the balcony of their third-floor apartment, breaking both her right leg and left ankle. She was taken to University of Toledo Medical Center, where she was listed in fair condition.
“The last time I saw him. He was going up the stairs, then the lights went out, and I couldn’t breathe because of the smoke and I had to leave,” Miss Darden said. “When the flames came up, [my mother] jumped out.”
Chief Cousino confirmed two fatalities and two injuries, including the woman who jumped. The second injury was treatment for minor smoke inhalation and anxiety, he said.
Bailey Grigsby, 59, who lives in Building H, next to the building that burned, said he heard someone yell “fire,” so he ran outside and saw flames shooting out of the hallway of the building next door.
“The flames came straight out of the hallway, went straight up to the roof, and then straight across the roof,” Mr. Grigsby said. “Then I saw a lady jump out of a third-floor balcony… Then just a few minutes later the fire department got here and they tried to douse down the right side of the building because that’s where it was burning the hardest.”
The building did have working smoke alarms, which alerted most of the residents to evacuate, the chief said. He said people apparently tried to use extinguishers to put out the fire because discharged extinguishers were found outside the building.
Residents from as many as six units were unaccounted for Monday morning, said Jason Copsey, spokesman for the Red Cross, however, later in the day, Chief Cousino said everyone was accounted for.
The Red Cross said Monday it had provided assistance to 30 people, who lived in 18 different units. Six units were vacant, officials said.
Crews continued to sift through the rubble Monday with an excavator. Investigators with the state fire marshal’s office were on the scene, according to Karen Bowman, a spokesman for the office.
The fire was reported about 11:09 p.m. Sunday and fire crews had the blaze under control by about 3 a.m. Damage estimates were about $1 million, fire officials said.
Several nearby buildings in the complex were evacuated as well, but none of those buildings was thought to have suffered damage. Residents of those buildings were allowed back in their units at about 2 a.m. Area crews were released about 4:15 a.m. by Springfield Township crews, who remained at the complex.
Displaced residents stood outside the charred rubble in disbelief.
“This is the fourth or fifth fire in this apartment complex and I think it is suspicious,” said Luci Barnes, 43, who also lived in the building that burned down.
It is the fourth major fire at Hidden Cedars, just north of the Ohio Turnpike, since 2000, and the sixth overall. Each of the major fires destroyed at least one building.
On Nov. 18, 2011, a very small fire was reported in Building G — the same one destroyed Sunday night. There were no injuries and damage was less than $500. The other fires occurred in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009.
Lucas County auditor records show at least seven different individuals or companies own apartments in Building G. Eleven were owned by S&S Investment Co. of Sylvania. Four were owned by Forty Hidden Cedars LLC., and one each was owned by Greater Metropolitan Title Co., Lawrence Meyer, Red Bug LLC., Steve Oravecz, and Gale J. Lindke, trustees.
A message left at S & S Investment was not returned. A message left for David Honold, an attorney for Forty Hidden Cedars, also was not returned.
Individual unit owners could not be reached for comment.
Blade staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.
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Blaze at Springfield Twp. condos sixth since 2000.