Homeless man charged with Middletown arson, says fire necessary to keep warm

A homeless man, charged with starting a fire that cost the city more than $130,000 in demolition costs and firefighter overtime, told police the fire kept him warm on nights he slept at the former Middletown Paperboard facility on Verity Parkway.

Detective Steve Winters testified Wednesday afternoon that Joshua Lamb, 35, told him he started the fire, and when he walked away to get more wood, his bedding caught fire and he fled the scene in the early morning on New Year’s Day.

Middletown Municipal Court Judge James Sherron found probable cause of the fourth-degree felony arson charge and bound the case against Lamb over to a Butler County grand jury. Lamb’s bond remained at $20,000 cash, surety or property.

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Winters said he found Lamb in an alley on Broad Street and during an interview at 5 p.m. Jan. 1 at the police station, he told police four other homeless people lived at the facility on Verity Parkway.

When questioned by defense attorney Morgan Kohler about Lamb’s alleged involvement in starting the fire, Winters said Lamb told him he started the fire and he was the only one who slept near the fire. Right after the fire, there was concern that other homeless living inside the facility could have been trapped by the fire, but they were located.

In the week since the fire, Middletown firefighters returned numerous times because of hot spots and Vickers Demolition has knocked down two smokestacks on the South Verity Parkway side of the facility.

Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli said firefighters cleared the scene about 8 p.m. Jan. 3, but fire crews continued to do drive-bys throughout the night to make sure that any hot spots did not ignite.

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.

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 Susan Cohen, acting city manager.

Lamb told police he entered the building through a garage door.

Cohen 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.

Reporter Ed Richter contributed to this report.

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