Discovery of mystery tank slows work on Middletown building destroyed by fire

A crew from Vickers Demolition works to move debris and rubble to expose possible hotspots of smouldering fire debris at the Middletown Paperboard facility, 300 S. Verity Parkway in the aftermath of the New Year’s Day fire. The building caught fire after a homeless man built a fire inside the building but left to get more firewood. His bedding caught fire which spread throughout the building. ED RICHTER/STAFF
A crew from Vickers Demolition works to move debris and rubble to expose possible hotspots of smouldering fire debris at the Middletown Paperboard facility, 300 S. Verity Parkway in the aftermath of the New Year’s Day fire. The building caught fire after a homeless man built a fire inside the building but left to get more firewood. His bedding caught fire which spread throughout the building. ED RICHTER/STAFF

Crews working to put out final flames and clear debris from this week’s large fire at the former Middletown Paperboard site found another problem on Friday: a liquid storage tank containing an unknown liquid substance.

Shelby Quinlivan, city spokeswoman, said the 10,000-gallon tank contained an estimated 200 to 300 gallons of an unknown substance. She said the liquid in the tank would be extracted before the tank can be removed by the Vickers crew.

“This will probably delay the timetable in reopening (South) Verity Parkway,” she said.

South Verity Parkway/Ohio 4 between Girard Avenue and Yankee Road has been closed since Wednesday to through traffic because of the damaged buildings and debris. Two smoke stacks at the south end of the facility will also need to come down to protect public safety. City officials had hoped to have South Verity Parkway/Ohio 4 opened to traffic by late Friday.

The 11-acre site of 61 parcels is located at 300 S. Verity Parkway and had an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 square feet of space.

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Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli said demolition crews were pulling away walls to aid in fighting hotspots.

“They helped us enormously,” Lolli said.

An orange glow from the smouldering debris could be seen on the Park Street side of the building Thursday night.

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Fire Capt. George Blake, who was on the Park Street side Friday morning as the demolition crew was working to uncover the smouldering pockets in the building and a fire engine continued spraying water into the building, said the overnight rain didn’t help much. He said there were hotspots on the structure which had a roof built on top of another roof. Blake said the void between the roofs is where the fire went.

The Vickers heavy equipment crews worked methodically to knock down each wall, peeling the interior walls from the exterior wall to expose the hotspots.

Middletown firefighters have remained on the scene watching for floating embers going on to nearby residential and commercial properties since New Year’s Day. The smouldering embers were buried in pockets inside the double roof, burning into the old wooden beams. As demolition crews worked, moving the debris and removing the scrap metal left in the building, walls were being knocked down, revealing more hotspots.

The large fire was reported at 6:40 a.m. on Wednesday. More than 100 firefighters at a time battled the blaze, which led to the arrest of a man, Joshua Lamb, who said he was living in the building when a fire he started spread to his bedding.