Large fire causes ‘catastrophic’ damage to vacant Middletown building: What we know today

Firefighters could remain on the scene for several days putting out hot spots after a large New Year’s Day fire at the former Middletown Paperboard building.

The fire was reported just before 6:40 a.m. at the building at 300 S. Verity Parkway. A Middletown firefighter was driving to duty when he noticed smoke and was flagged down by someone on a bike to report the fire.

ExploreUPDATE: Dozens of firefighters renew efforts battling Middletown Paperboard fire after new smoke, flames seen

Smoke from the fire was visible from miles away, and witnesses said they could feel the heat from the flames standing across the street.

Crews initially believed the fire was under control by late morning, but a new area of flames caused more activity by 1:41 p.m., according to Shelby Quinlivan, city spokeswoman.

She said additional off-duty fire crews were called in to assist Middletown fire crews as well as the fire crews from Franklin, Monroe and Liberty Twp. Quinlivan said when the additional crews arrived, there were 70 to 90 firefighters on the scene. They continued to search the nearby neighborhoods to check for possible effects of burning embers.

ExploreWATCH: Videos capture walls collapsing, intense flames and smoke at Middletown vacant building fire

Middleown Fire Chief Paul Lolli called the damage to the building “catastrophic.”

“I’d say we’ll be here the rest of the week,” Lolli said.

The building is “frequented” by homeless people, Lolli said.

“We have some water pressure issues which is causing us to have a little bit of trouble to get a lot of water on the fire,” Lolli said Wednesday morning. “Right now we’re just trying to keep it from spreading to the unburnt parts of the structure.”

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No firefighters injuries were reported, according to Middletown officials. Firefighters were unable to enter the structure to search for casualties due to the fire and unstable structure. Crews expected to enter the building later Wednesday for salvage and overhaul.

Debris from the damage fellonto Verity Parkway, causing a road closure. The area was being evaluated by Middletown’s building inspection officials on Wednesday.

Firefighters responded to a trash fire on the property on Saturday, but no other information was available on that incident.

WATCH: Former Middletown Paperboard building unstable with parts collapsing after intense fire

The building was most recently owned by BP Logan Corporation, and was foreclosed on by Butler County Auditor in October 2018. Judgment of the foreclosure was issued in April 2019 and a sale of the property was ordered by the court. A sheriff sale of the property was attempted twice in November 2019, with no sale completed. The property was requested to be forfeited to the State of Ohio by the Butler County Prosecutors office on Nov. 22, 2019.

The Middletown Paperboard facility consists of 61 parcels which were recently ordered to be forfeited to the state of Ohio on Dec. 12 by Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Greg Howard, according to court documents.

Acting City Manager Susan Cohen said the city plans to work with the Butler County Land Bank to acquire the property for redevelopment as part of the Oakland Historic District project.

It is the second major fire at the building in less than two years. On Feb. 2, 2018, neighbors called 911 about 11:30 p.m. reporting heavy smoke and flames coming from the facility, and crews battled that fire for about 12 hours.

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Firefighters were at the scene at least 12 hours at a vacant warehouse area of the former business, with crews remaining to douse smoldering areas.

The building has been empty for decades, officials said at the time.

Neighbors noticed a sport utility vehicle parked near the building, they said. They said the abandoned building was a popular gathering spot for teens and sometimes was entered by others. There was graffiti visible on some of the walls.

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