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Trash bin arsonists may have started house fire

By:  Star Beacon - Mark Todd

ASHTABULA — Arsonists who have set nearly two dozen fires inside trash containers in the city of Ashtabula this month may be seeking bigger — and potentially more dangerous — prey, fire officials said.

A vacant house at 724 W. 52nd St., blazed early Wednesday morning, a fire that required 14 firefighters to bring under control, according to a statement from the Ashtabula Fire Department. The cause was a “suspicious” fire in a nearby detached garage, which spread to the house, firefighters said.

Officials fear the fire may be a progression from the numerous trash-container fires ignited in the city during the past several weeks. Twenty-two such fires have been reported this month, three of them on Tuesday, firefighters said.

“We are concerned (the West 52nd Street fire) may be an escalation of the ongoing string of (container) fires in the city,” Fire Chief Ron Pristera said in a statement. “Our concern is (the perpetrators) are becoming bored with the (containers) and have graduated to vacant buildings.”

Trash and recycling bin fires haven’t been confined to Ashtabula. Similar fires have occurred in Ashtabula Township and Conneaut, according to reports. In Conneaut, firefighters doused a fire in a Clark Street recycling bin earlier this week and, on Tuesday, snuffed out back-to-back container fires behind the Family Dollar store at the Conneaut Plaza shopping center and the Auto Zone store at the Gateway Plaza shopping center, said Jon Arcaro, the city’s public safety director.

Firefighters were dispatched to the Ashtabula house fire around 2 a.m., and upon arrival found the garage engulfed in flames and fire on the first and second floors of the house, according to the statement. The house was slated for demolition, firefighters said.

A search of the building found no occupants, according to the statement. Firefighters from Ashtabula Township and Community Care ambulance personnel assisted at the scene.

Fire officials suspect a handful of people are involved in the fires.

“We believe these fires are the work of several different people,” Pristera said in the statement. “Initially, a suspect was identified in some of the earlier fires, but we now have reason to believe there are different people involved in the string of intentionally set fires.”

Conneaut officials have leads on their fires that are being investigated, Arcaro said.

Ashtabula Township Fire Chief Michael Fitchet said suspects have been found in two recent fires, including a brush fire near the Wal-Mart, and other blazes are being investigated.

“We’ve had our share,” Fitchet said. “Luckily, there’s been limited damage.”

Residents are being asked to keep an eye on trash containers and report people who are loitering nearby. Business owners should empty their containers regularly and consider installing surveillance equipment, firefighters said.

In Ashtabula, a reward up to $5,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators, firefighters said. Call the department’s fire prevention bureau (992-7191) with information.

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