A two-alarm fire in the early hours of Saturday morning, Dec. 8, destroyed any hope of rehabilitation of the old Davis Paints structure.
The fire is being labeled suspicious, according to Madison Township Fire Chief Robert Bates, whose department is heading the investigation. Utilities such as electricity have been cut off from the location for years, ruling out the possibility that the blaze originated from errant wiring or leaking pipes, he said.
"The fire is still under investigation at this point and we are considering it to be suspicious," Bates said. "We're running the investigation with the help from the State Fire Marshal's Office and the Fairfield County Sheriff's Department."
Approximately 100 firefighters from Madison Township, Bloom Township, Columbus and Violet Township responded to the fire, managing to contain it within two hours, Bates said.
"I can't say enough about the job the guys did. When you look at the amount of fire and how intense it burned - well, the fact that none of the neighboring buildings had damage is just amazing," Bates said. "We left an engine company there all night through morning to watch for hot spots and to help while the investigators took it apart."
Mayor Michael Ebert said he was on site during much of the time the blaze was being fought and agreed that firefighters were heroic in their efforts.
"I was there early on and the fire crews did an excellent job containing it to that property," Ebert said. "When we were watching it, we were just hoping there was no one in there and we were glad that ended up being the case."
Bates said he also is thankful that there were no injuries related to the fire.
"The buildings the fire occurred in are a total loss, so because of a public safety concern, we had to take action to make the site safe, which meant demolishing them," Bates said.
Ebert said the site would be cleaned up of all debris.
"We're not going to let this remain as a pile. It'll have to be cleaned up now, per our city code," he said.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to contact Madison Township Fire at 614-837-7883.
This is the second possible arson in Canal Winchester in the past two weeks; however, Bates said it doesn't appear the two fires are connected.
According to Franklin County Auditor's Office records, the Davis Paints property is still owned by the Guernsey Bank, which had petitioned the city for permission to demolish the buildings earlier this year as part of an attempt to redevelop the property.
Resident Patrick Shea entered into an agreement with the bank on Feb. 10 to purchase the property in hopes of rehabilitating and redeveloping those buildings. However, the Guernsey Bank claimed Shea had not met his obligations on the contract and cancelled the sale, prior to asking for the demolition permit.
In conjunction with the request for a demolition permit, Canal Winchester resident Bob McDorman presented an offer to purchase the property for the purpose of building a new car museum and housing the Ed Jeffers Barber Museum.
Several members of the Landmarks Commission and Canal Winchester City Council had to recuse themselves from hearing the petition because of conflicts of interest. As a result, the demolition permit was never awarded. An unresolved lawsuit filed by Shea on April 2, in an attempt to force Guersney Bank to complete the transaction to him, ultimately prevented the sale to McDorman, but also did not result in getting the property transferred to Shea.
In 2010, a senior housing development project was proposed for the site, but was ultimately rejected by city residents.