Repairs are under way at fire-ravaged house

Six fires, five set intentionally, have struck 4117 Mayfield Drive since the end of June. Neighbors are encouraged that the structure is being fixed up.
Six fires, five set intentionally, have struck 4117 Mayfield Drive since the end of June. Neighbors are encouraged that the structure is being fixed up.

Residents on Mayfield Drive say a once-deteriorating property on their street looks better than it has in years, even though it's been hit by six fires since the end of June.

“I'm glad to see [improvements] being done [to] it. Too many people said tear it down,” said Carol McLeod, who has lived across from 4117 Mayfield for about five years.

The condition of the property, close to Sylvania and Lewis avenues and owned by John Ulmer, founder of the Westhaven Group, has been a complaint of the neighbors and the city. Added to their concerns have been the blazes, five of which have been ruled arson. “It definitely has been a problematic residence for us with all the fires we've had,” said Lt. Craig Beck of the Toledo fire investigation unit.

Five of the blazes occurred at the vacant house, the sixth at a garage on the property. The blazes caused an estimated $16,500 damage to the dwelling and $3,000 damage to the garage.

The first fire, which occurred at the house June 30, was ruled accidental. Fire investigators said it may have been caused by juveniles playing with fireworks in the back yard of a house behind 4117 Mayfield. The other four fires at the house occurred between 8 and 9 p.m. Aug. 6, and Oct. 1, 8, and 15. The garage blaze happened about 1 a.m. Sept. 1.

A next-door neighbor, Timothy McCarthy, 53, of 4115 Mayfield was charged with arson in the last blaze, which caused about $500 damage. He was arraigned and released on his own recognizance and is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in Toledo Municipal Court.

Fire investigators said Mr. McCarthy was at the fire scenes, often offering help. Neighbors said he has complained about the property. He has attended neighborhood Block Watch meetings, but is not a leader.

Mr. McCarthy declined comment. His wife, Debra, defended him. “My husband is not guilty of this charge. He had nothing to do with the fire,” she said.

The blazes enhanced the neighbors' worries about the property.

Prior to the recent improvements, the front sidewalk was cracking, the porch railing was falling off, and the paint was peeling, neighbors said. There was trash, and the grass wasn't always mowed. Neighbors worried about teenagers and vermin getting inside the residence.

Problems at the 84-year-old dwelling existed prior to Westhaven's ownership, dating to 1992, according to court documents and citations. The previous owner was ordered to remove a junk vehicle and fix or demolish the garage. Since then, inspectors ordered structural problems repaired and debris removed.

The previous renters had a problem with the heat earlier this year. They went to municipal court and placed their rent in an escrow account to force Westhaven to make repairs.

Mr. Ulmer filed an eviction notice on the renters, and a judge ordered their escrowed rent returned to them.

In December, the city ordered removal of all junk, debris, and litter from the property, including the front porch; the foundation, overhangs, windows, porch railing, and steps repaired or replaced, and the wood painted.

Seven months later, the city filed fourth-degree misdemeanor charges against Westhaven after the company failed to comply with the orders. A hearing on the charges is scheduled for Nov. 21.

Neighbors said a sealant has been put on the house in anticipation of siding. Boards cover some of the window and door openings. Neighbors said new windows and doors are in the works, and new carpeting was laid.

Westhaven did not return phone calls seeking comment on the improvements. Neighbors said some of the work has been done in between the fires, which they worried would spread to adjacent houses, including Mr. McCarthy's.

Jane Mullikin, the neighborhood Block Watch leader, said she and residents are pleased to see work being done. “I'm really glad progress is being made on it,” she said.