Cause of Garrettsville fire undetermined; village looks ahead

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff Writer Published:

The cause of a blaze that leveled the historic Buckeye Block in Garrettsville on March 22 is officially undetermined, the Ohio State Fire Marshal announced Wednesday.

While investigators had noted some hot-seal work was being done on a portion of roof on one of the businesses that day, Michael Duchesne, fire marshal public information officer, said there wasn't enough evidence to single that out as the start to the fire that destroyed more than a dozen businesses.

"We could not rule out the use of a torch in the ignition of roofing materials as the source," he said.

The investigation is now closed.

Meanwhile, the village is returning to normalcy as best it can after the devastating blaze.

"We want to get the word out that Garrettsville is still open," said Mayor Rick Patrick. "It was just a part of our town that was wiped out, not the whole town. We still have places to eat and shop."

Patrick said there have been countless inquires over the past couple weeks about whether the village's signature events -- including car cruise-in nights on Main Street and the annual Summerfest -- will continue as planned.

Most businesses have publicly committed to re-establishing where their former homes were destroyed, but whether all rebuild will ultimately be up to each property owner.

Cleanup effort have been slow and are ongoing. Most properties have not cleared away rubble yet because several still need to go through asbestos assessments through the Environmental Protection Agency before securing demolition permits enabling proper cleanups.

High Street, which branches off Main Street where the fire occurred, was reopened Wednesday. The street had remained closed because of concerns that a remaining building could topple over -- but considering that building is still standing following several storms and high winds, Patrick said that is no longer a concern of village and fire department officials.

The village is working with Ohio Edison to have electricity restored so street lights around the fire area can be turned back on.

Fundraising and volunteer efforts are also ongoing. Those interested in learning more about how or where they can help is encouraged to contact Christine Pitsinger, a Garrettsville native and owner of the Community Journal, at 330-414-6486 or via her work email at communityjournal@yahoo.com.

Benjamin Coll, president of the Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce, noted money donated to the GarrettsvilleStrong fund, which has been established to help rebuild the downtown, has not yet been dispersed, but is being collected for future use.

"No disbursements of any kind will occur until firm guidelines have been put in place for doing so," wrote Coll on the village's Facebook wall last week, "and those guidelines have been reviewed and approved by our legal counsel. If you've heard otherwise, you were misled."

"Remember that rebuilding our historic district will be a monumental task," he added. "Fundraising through GarrettsvilleStrong will be a marathon and not a sprint to the finish."

Anyone interested in learning more about where or how to donate or how to register their fundraiser with the village should contact Michelle Zivoder, Garrettsville Chamber of Commerce secretary and owner of the Weekly Villager, at 330.527.5761 or news@weeklyvillager.com

Garrettsville-Freedom-Nelson Joint Fire District Chief David Friess has shared some positive sentiments on the Facebook wall as well.

"Special thanks to the local students who sent us letters and artwork from school the week after the fire, it brightened our day to hear how much you love Garrettsville," Friess wrote. "All of this was a reflection of what a great village we live in, and why Garrettsville is strong. I wish the community well as we heal rebuild, and move forward after this devastating fire."

Patrick noted a community prayer will be held in the parking lots behind the Buckeye Block at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or jnobile@recordpub.com

Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier

Twitter: @jnobile_RPC

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