As several pieces of heavy machinery worked to raze the remains of a destroyed warehouse in Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood, people living across the street said they were glad to see it gone.
Hamilton fire officials continued to investigate the huge Thursday blaze that they say is suspicious. They also were looking into some residents’ theory that homeless people who recently were displaced from other parts of the neighborhood were living inside the abandoned structure, Hamilton Fire Chief Mark Mercer said.
“We’ve heard the same things that you’ve heard, that a neighbor saw people leaving the building, and all these people living in there, but until we can put a name or a face, or anything with that … our burden is we have to actually prove it,” Mercer said.
Mercer asked residents who might have information to contact the fire department at 785-7500.
It’s possible people were living inside because “the building was not well secured,” Mercer said. The city had ordered the former owner to seal the building, but that did not happen.
Larry Chance, 70, who has lived in his Laurel Avenue home 40 years after his parents lived there before him, said destruction of the building at 999 Laurel was “wonderful — been trying to get it done for 15 years. No matter who owned it, it’s falling apart, dilapidated. The gutters have always leaked water, which turned into ice, which caused pedestrian and vehicle accidents, all up and down the whole 900 block of Laurel Avenue.”
Just last week, he said, he called the city to complain about high weeds on the property.
The warehouse was destroyed by a massive fire that began at about 4:45 on Thursday. There were no injuries, but the fire gutted the building and caused damage to nearby homes. Smoldering ruins were still smoking on Friday morning as officials continued to assess the damage and seek next steps for the ruins.
“Ashes,” Chance said, holding some up, as he cleaned up his front porch. “It used to be a chair.”
Another Laurel Avenue resident agreed with Chance.
“It don’t matter to me,” said Kim Huppertz. “It was an eyesore anyway.”
When another Laurel resident, Rick Burch, opened his front door shortly after the fire started around 4:45 a.m. Thursday, the heat was so intense it singed the hair on his arm. He had to leave through the back door, and firefighters helped him climb a back fence to leave.
“Thanks to all the departments that showed up,” Burch said. “It took a water shield to save the houses here.”
Mercer said six departments including Hamilton responded. The others were Fairfield, Monroe and the townships of Ross, Fairfield and West Chester.
The extreme heat of the blaze melted and broke windows on properties across the street, as well as melting vinyl siding and shutters and burning trees across the street.
Burch and other residents were pleased to see Vickers Wrecking and Demolition already working to level the building.
Mercer said the city contracted for the demolition because the building’s skeleton is an immediate threat for collapse. The city will seek reimbursement for those costs, he said.
The warehouse was sold just two days before the fire, for $200,000 from Capstone Financial in Irving, Texas, to Coast Boulevard Associates in Glendale, Arizona, according to the county auditor’s website. The $14,433 tax bill has been paid on the building.
Denise G. Callahan contributed reporting