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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2010

South Toledo home latest to feel effect of vacant-building blazes

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Debora Burch picked up the phone when she noticed an open window at the boarded-up vacant apartment next door in the 900 block of Orchard Street.

"I knew they were going to start a fire," Ms. Burch, 53, said.

She was right.

From the front room of her ruined South Toledo home yesterday, she related her frustration because she believes the city's Department of Neighborhoods brushed off her complaint.


Rubble is all that is left of the apartment building next to Debora Burch's home on Orchard Street.  She said she had worried that the vacant building next door would tempt arsonists. Rubble is all that is left of the apartment building next to Debora Burch's home on Orchard Street. She said she had worried that the vacant building next door would tempt arsonists.
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A pile of broken, burned boards next door is all that remains of the apartments that fire investigators reported were intentionally ignited early yesterday. That blaze spread to cause $25,000 in damage to what was once Ms. Burch's tidy white house.

The city has no record of Ms. Burch's report, which may have been more appropriately handled by police anyway, Bob Mossing, the city's code enforcement manager, said.

"We don't send people out on an emergency basis," Mr. Mossing said. "That's a police matter if she thinks a crime is being committed."

He said an inspector must visit a site before a board-up or repair job to a vacant property can be approved. The city has secured about 500 empty buildings since January, and typically seeks to bill the property owner for the job, which costs between $200 and $500.

Those buildings must be recorded in the vacant-home registry, which costs the property owner $100 more. The Orchard Street apartments that were set on fire were not registered as vacant property, city records show.

Most of the fires recently tackled by crews seem to be intentionally ignited vacant homes, Toledo Fire Chief Mike Wolever said.

Nearly 32 percent of all Toledo fires in 2009 involved vacant buildings. In 2001, only 11 percent of fires involved empty structures, statistics provided by the Toledo Fire Department show.

"I believe that the majority of our fires are arson fires, or at the very least, suspicious," Chief Wolever said.

It was just after 4 p.m. on Friday when Ms. Burch realized that plywood no longer covered a broken rear window at the 902 Orchard St. apartment, which had been empty since last summer.

She said she phoned the mayor's office, who transferred her call to the city's Department of Neighborhoods. She said she was frustrated when the receptionist explained that no one was available to investigate her complaint until Monday.

"She said all the inspectors were gone," Ms. Burch said.

She and her boyfriend, Dalton Collins, tried to keep an eye on the place over the weekend. At one point, he said he saw two men run from the apartment.

Because radiation and chemotherapy treatments for brain and lung cancers have made sleeping in bed uncomfortable for Ms. Burch, she spent Sunday night in an armchair. The couple were sleeping in the living room when their barking dog woke them to flames next door about 4 a.m. yesterday.

Mr. Collins remembers hearing what sounded like male voices yelling as he peered out the window and called 911. The couple escaped the home without injury.

The blaze probably was the result of arson, Fire Battalion Chief Jerry Abair said. The apartments were a total loss.

Ms. Burch's house now has a gaping hole where her ceiling once was. A pile of crumbled drywall and ash landed in the chair where she once napped.

She sat in a front room, lamenting the loss, as her son and several others scrambled to salvage photos and knickknacks.

Home will be a Days Inn in Rossford for the next few days. After that, she isn't so sure she'll return to the Orchard Street home where she grew up.

"This neighborhood never was like this," Ms. Burch said.

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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