Middletown deciding next steps for destroyed Middletown Paperboard site

Middletown officials are working on a plan for addressing the former Middletown Paperboard facility that caught fire on New Year’s Day.

Acting City Manager Susan Cohen said the city focused on getting South Verity Parkway/Ohio 4 reopened, which happened about 12:25 p.m. Monday.

City officials hoped to reopen South Verity late Friday, but that was delayed after a 10,000-gallon tank was found under the rubble containing about 200 to 300 gallons of an undetermined liquid. The tank was removed on Saturday, and the two smoke stacks the on south end of the massive building came down on Sunday, according to city spokeswoman Shelby Quinlivan.

“We’re still working on it,” Cohen said. “We will work to secure the site as we are able.”

Vickers Demolition estimated the cost to assist firefighters with debris removal at $100,000, but Cohen added the city has not received the final bill.

“There will need to be a full evaluation of the property to do the rest of the clearing and demolition at a later time,” Cohen said. “There will need to be environmental remediation done on some of the property prior to reuse.

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Demolition crews continued their work over the weekend clearing debris, knocking down walls and pulling out the 10,000-gallon tank.

“The fire operations are finished, said Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli on Sunday. “It was one of the hardest fires I’ve seen to fight because we could not get access to put water on the center of the fire.”

Lolli said firefighters cleared the scene about 8 p.m. Friday but fire crews continued to do drive-bys throughout the night to make sure that any hotspots did not ignite.

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Vickers crews were working with heavy equipment on the Park Street side of the facility moving the debris and looking for more hotspots. Another crew could be seen on an aerial platform about 90 feet in the air chiseling away with a jackhammer.

Lolli said by mid-Sunday afternoon a portion of one smoke stack dropped about a fourth of its height.

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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 firefighters have remained on the scene over the weekend 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.

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The large fire was reported at 6:40 a.m. on Jan. 1. 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.

Lamb was arraigned in court Jan. 2. Court officials said Lamb is being held under a $20,000 bond in the Middletown City Jail, where he was booked about 8 p.m. Jan. 1. A preliminary hearing for Lamb has been set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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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, Cohen said.

She 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.

Photographer Nick Graham contributed to this report.

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