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Published: Friday, 7/15/2005

Residents hunt for valuables at fire-ravaged site

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The fire-damaged Clermont Manor Apartments will not be razed at least until next week because of a festival in town. The fire-damaged Clermont Manor Apartments will not be razed at least until next week because of a festival in town.
LONG / BLADE Enlarge

WAUSEON - From the smoky ruins of the Clermont Manor Apartments, a few residents carried out file-cabinet drawers of financial records and laundry baskets full of other items late yesterday afternoon as demolition appraisers surveyed the historic former Hotel Blair.

"The building's unsafe to be in. All we're going to get out is the special stuff," owner Tim Dennis told residents gathered outside. The 20-unit brick building at 124 Depot St. burned Wednesday morning in a five-alarm fire.

Rick and Brenda Parran were hoping to salvage home videos and baby pictures of their son Joshua, 3, from the three-bedroom apartment where the couple lived for six years. Perhaps, they said, they might also be able to save their bicycles.

"Our place got hit the least," Mr. Parran said of his front, first-floor apartment that had loose insulation hanging from the ceiling and plaster and other building materials littering the floor.

Apartments in the back and top half of the building were too damaged for even the state fire marshal's inspector and an insurance inspector to enter, Wauseon Fire Chief Marv Wheeler said.

Inspectors are expected to wait until next week to work again on determining the cause of the fire. In part, that's because the annual Wauseon Homecoming downtown street festival opened yesterday afternoon, beginning its three-day run, and officials did not want to bring in equipment to dismantle part of the building as the streets filled with carnival rides, food booths, and thousands of festival-goers.

Wauseon police officers guarded the former hotel until early yesterday afternoon, when the entrance was fenced off. City firefighters had left about midnight Wednesday.

The building likely will be demolished as soon as the fire investigation is complete, said Mr. Dennis, a residential landlord and farmer. He said he might build something later on the lot, but he had no firm plans last night.

About 50 people lived in the building that was constructed in 1896 as a railroad hotel.

The Fulton County Red Cross's expenses in helping residents after the fire are expected to total $7,000 to $10,000, said Jennifer McCullough, the organization's county disaster chairman.

The agency provided motel rooms for six households and gave Wal-Mart vouchers to residents, such as Eileen Johnson and her daughter Barbara, who left their apartment Wednesday morning in their nightclothes.

"We didn't get anything out," said Eileen Johnson, who has lived in the building about 15 years. "We just got out."

The night of the fire, the Red Cross recouped some of its costs with a previously scheduled chicken barbecue at the American Legion hall in Swanton. Ms. McCullough estimated the profit at $2,800 from serving 500 chicken halves.

Volunteers, however, were tired after spending the day at the fire and the evening serving chicken.

"We all smelled like smoke before we got to the barbecue," Ms. McCullough said. And at 6 yesterday morning, some of the same volunteers were opening a blood donation station, which also was scheduled previously.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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