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Published: Wednesday, 10/7/2009

Ownership issues cloud probe of fire in Springfield Township

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Christina Douglas, her husband, and their four children watched their home burn to the ground three days ago, and now they can't even pick up the pieces.

There are none left to collect.

The family was among those who lost everything when the condominium they rented in Springfield Township was destroyed early Sunday morning.

"We are in the Red Roof Inn, thanks to the Red Cross, and we have just until [tomorrow] morning to get out," Mrs. Douglas said yesterday. "We are looking at places, but finding a new place in two days will not be easy."

A massive fire, the cause of which is unknown, leveled most of the 18-unit Building J at the Hidden Cedars Condominium, 6201 Garden Rd.

The 10-building Hidden Cedars complex, built in 1972, has a complicated ownership structure and has had financial problems the past several years.

Milhem "Bill" Swade, who owned four units in the destroyed building, as well as 19 other condominiums throughout the complex, said Building J was uninsured.

"We do not have insurance on this building because it was canceled not too long ago and we did not renew," Mr. Swade said. "Of course it is a big blow and I don't have any idea right now what we are going to do with this building."

Springfield Township Fire Chief Barry Cousino estimated the damage at about $2 million.

Forty-eight units at the development - six of them in Building J - are owned by Herbie Howard, a Toledo area real-estate investor, and were foreclosed on recently.

Mr. Howard declined to talk about the foreclosures and said he was concentrating on having an excavator move fire debris so the building's water could be turned off.

Mr. Swade said it has been a struggle to determine who is responsible for the building.

"There have been a lot of them that were foreclosed on, including all of Herbie Howard's, and we don't know who is in charge," he said.

Property insurance premiums soared nearly sixfold at Hidden Cedars after a fire July 7, 2000, destroyed a 20-unit building. All residents escaped unhurt. A major fire in February, 2006, destroyed a 16-unit building, deepening the troubles.

Two people were hurt in that fire.

In all, 34 people were left homeless by Sunday's blaze. Chief Cousino said the cause remained under investigation. Witnesses are asked to call the state fire marshal's office.

Mrs. Douglas got home from work at 12:30 a.m. and smelled a peculiar odor.

"I didn't see anything, but I screamed for my husband and he came out and I opened the door to the hall and we could see smoke and orange light in the skylight," she said. "That's when he pounded on our neighbors' doors and the kids called 911 as we came out."

Missy McGlenn, who had lived there since July, also lost everything except for three urns holding the ashes of her mother, brother, and grandmother.

They were retrieved from the rubble Monday by a friend who is a former firefighter, she said.

"A lot of blame is put on the landlord because the smoke detectors were not working, but we all heard them beeping in the hallways when the batteries died and no one did anything," said Ms. McGlenn.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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