Man indicted for huge Middletown warehouse fire as city eyes millions in demolition costs

A Butler County grand jury has indicted a man on felony charges for allegedly starting a fire on New Year’s Day at the former Middletown Paperboard facility on Verity Parkway.

Joshua Lamb, 35, was charged by Middletown police with arson just a few hours after the huge fire began. He was indicted today for arson, a fourth-degree felony, and aggravated arson, a second-degree felony. He is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court in the indicted charges.

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The fire burned for days and is estimated to cost the city more than $130,000 in demolition costs and firefighter overtime.

Lamb remains incarcerated in lieu of a $20,000 bond.

During a preliminary hearing last month in municipal court, Middletown Detective Steve Winters said Lamb, who is homeless, told him he started the fire. 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.

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

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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 hotspots did not ignite.

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.

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

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

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 and was previously owned by BP Logan LLC before a tax foreclosure suit was filed in Butler County Common Pleas Court in 2018. On Dec. 19, 2019, the property was forfeited to the state of Ohio and was transferred on Jan. 10.

The state transferred the property to the Butler County Land Bank on Jan. 13. It was transferred to the city that same day, according to Butler County Auditor’s Office records.

Cohen told Middletown City Council Tuesday night that the estimated cost to tear down the Middletown Paperboard facility is between $1.5 million and $2 million.

City Council approved an emergency ordinance to pay $100,000 to Vickers Demolition for the work they did to assist firefighters in moving debris and walls to extinguish hot spots in the building.

“Obviously this will have to be torn down in portions,” she said. “I believe other cities have this problem as well.”

Cohen encouraged council members to reach out to state legislators to push for passage of House Bill 252 which would provide funding to local land banks to address these blight issues. She and Mayor Nichole Condrey have met with state Rep. Candice Keller about the issue and the city is applying for state funding to demolish the building.

She said there will need to be a brownfield evaluation and other remediation at the site to make it marketable.

Cohen said the property needs to be secured and the 1,900 linear feet of fencing will cost about $37,500 and was unsure about the cost of renting the fencing. Council members wanted additional information to determine the break-even amount between purchasing and renting the fencing to keep people out of the building.

Staff Writer Rick McCrabb contributed to this report

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