BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - The Middletown Fire Department had to send additional crews back to the site of a vacant warehouse fire Friday, as smoldering hot spots reignited into a full fire.
“This is a labor-intensive scene. We have fire in a lot of void spaces due to collapsed walls,” Assistant Fire Chief David Adams said. “It’s hard to get at the fire. We are working with the demolition crew.”
The fire started at the site of the old Middletown Paper Board Company at 300 South Verity Parkway around 6:40 a.m. on Wednesday.
Middletown Police Chief David Birk said Joshua Lamb, a 35-year-old homeless man, admitted to starting the fire to stay warm, then fled once it spread.
Middletown Police said Thursday two people who were declared missing as crews worked on the fire have been accounted for.
Officials believe it will take another couple of days for the fire to be completely out.
Complicating matters, demolition crews found a 25-hundred gallon tank with 2,300 gallons of an unknown substance inside late Friday afternoon.
Crews cleared the scene and removed the tank before continuing with the demolition of the building.
This is the reportedly third fire at the site in recent years. The building has been in foreclosure since 2018 and was a frequent escape from the winter weather for area homeless, officials say.
“We are aware, it being colder, that the homeless seek shelter in various vacant buildings,” Birk explained. “This is one of the buildings they seek shelter from.”
The old warehouse sits on 61 parcels of land. It is a massive building that the city has tried to keep secure.
“We have tried to board up, to the best of our ability," Acting City Manager Susan Cohen said. "We put fencing around it, but it was continually damaged.”
The city is asking for state funds to help pay for the cost of tear down and clean up. Cohen said demolition is estimated to cost $100,000, which the city is bearing at the moment.
“We are like many cities in Ohio,” added Cohen. “We are dealing with buildings that have been abandoned and blighted.”
A couple blocks down from the warehouse fire is another concern for city officials. The vacant Manchester Manor Hotel is locked up, clearly marked with no trespassing signs, but it is another spot the homeless will use to get out of the winter elements.
“We are working on several solutions with the homeless," Birk said. "Unfortunately when it gets cold out they go to vacant houses or vacant buildings.”
Next to the vacant hotel is another forgotten warehouse. The fence surrounding the building to keep people out has been knocked down.
The city knows there is only so much they can do.
“We are not the only city in the area with a homeless problem,” Birk added. "Right now we do not have an answer for that.”