2 people feared inside burning Middletown building accounted for

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Crews battled a fire at the vacant former Middletown Paperboard building on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

UPDATE @ 7:14 a.m.:

Two people feared to be inside the burning former Middletown Paperboard facility are accounted for after they reached out to Middletown police.

INITIAL REPORT:

Heavy equipment operators carefully removed debris Thursday in a search for two unaccounted-for homeless people believed to have been in a Middletown building hit by a “catastrophic” fire on New Year’s Day.

Firefighters continued working Thursday to battle hotspots at the former Middletown Paperboard complex at 300 S. Verity Parkway. City officials sought assistance from Vickers Demolition once the area was deemed safe enough to begin clearing debris.

The fire was reported at about 6:40 a.m. Wednesday, and nearly 100 firefighters were on the scene battling the flames and smoke throughout the day.

Joshua Lamb, 35, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with arson, a fourth-degree felony. He told police he lived in the vacant building with four others, and he knew two escaped the fire safely.

Officials asked the public for help in finding two others, JD Robinson, also known as Justin de Vercelli, and Tiffany Orano. They had not been seen by family or friends since the fire and may still be in the building, Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli said during a Thursday afternoon news conference.

Lamb told police he built a fire in the building and “when he came back into the area his bed was on fire,” according to court documents. The fire spread, and Lamb fled the scene because he has several warrants for his arrest.

Lolli said fire K-9 units had not sent their dogs through the decimated building because of the smouldering debris and hotspots that makes it unsafe for the dogs.

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Lamb was arraigned in court Thursday. Court officials said Lamb is being held under a $20,000 bond in the Middletown City Jail, where he was booked about 8 p.m. Wednesday. A preliminary hearing for Lamb has been set for Jan. 8.

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Lolli said they have not pinpointed where the fire started in the building. Based on the debris from the collapsed walls and twisted metal at the building, he estimated the temperature of the fire reached 1,800 degrees.

Firefighters had to address fighting the blaze with high tension power lines around the building and low pressure in the old water mains that hampered the amount of water that could be used, he said.

He said the fire went along to the roof line to the south section of the building.

ExplorePHOTOS: Large fire at old Middletown Paperboard building on New Year’s Day

Lolli said the past three fire runs into the building were the result of someone building a fire to keep warm. He said sometimes the homeless use old shopping carts as grills to cook in. This was the third time firefighters responded to a blaze at that building complex.

Vickers estimated it would cost $100,000 to assist in moving the debris with their heavy equipment, said city spokeswoman Shelby Quinlivan.

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Middletown fire crews were continuing to pour water on the building on Thursday and will continue to do so today. Lolli said he hopes to have South Verity Parkway/Ohio 4 reopened by late today. However, he said it will take a few more days to put out the hotspots in the building and eliminate any possibilities of the walls collapsing onto Verity Parkway.

Officials will continue to keep various streets blocked off until the fire is completed put out and the area is safe.

City officials said there were many ways of getting into the building, Crews previously boarded up windows and doors and put up fencing to deter people from entering the building, said Acting City Manager Susan Cohen.

She said the city does not own the building or property that was forfeited to the state of Ohio on Dec. 19 in a tax foreclosure suit.