Fire marshal: Cause of July 4 blaze at Hilliard apartments is undetermined

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
Multiple fire departments, including units from Columbus and Norwich and Washington townships, responded July 4 to a blaze at the Crystal Lake Apartments complex in Hilliard. Scott Tigner, Norwich Township's fire marshal, said a cause has not been determined because the structure is so badly damaged that it is unsafe for inspectors to enter it.

The cause of a July 4 fire that caused more than $1 million in damage and the destruction of a building at the Crystal Lake Apartments complex in Hilliard cannot be determined, according to the Norwich Township Fire Department.

Scott Tigner, the township’s fire marshal, said the structure on the south side of Davidson Road is so badly damaged that it is unsafe for inspectors to enter it.

“There is so much destruction that the structural engineers told us (July 7) that it is unsafe to enter it,” Tigner said.

The fire is not considered suspicious, but the cause, barring any new evidence that might come to light, will remain undetermined, Tigner said.

It is not uncommon for investigators to be unable to pinpoint a cause in such conditions, he said.

Because the cause of the fire is undetermined, fire Chief Jeff Warren said, reports by apartment residents that a charcoal grill was the source of the fire cannot be validated.

Total damage is estimated at $1.2 million, and the fire-ravaged 3-story building will be demolished, Tigner said. The fire also damaged one other building in the complex, he said.

Eighteen people escaped the apartment building on Crystal Ball Drive during the late-morning fire, and no residents or firefighters were injured, Warren said.

A 911 call was received at 10:06 a.m., and Norwich Township firefighters arrived within minutes, he said.

Firefighters from Columbus, Upper Arlington and Prairie and Washington townships also responded to the blaze.

Some firefighters staged at the parking lot of Hilliard Davidson High School, across the street from Crystal Lake, to rest and rehydrate between 15-minute shifts, Warren said.

Temperatures reached 90 degrees after 11 a.m. as firefighters continued to spray water on the roof of the building from ladder trucks.

Sarah Hill, a Crystal Lake resident, was the 911 caller.

“I couldn’t get close enough (to the building on fire) to see if anyone needed help,” she said. “It was too hot.”

Minutes later, Hill said, she saw three firefighters run into the building.

“I want to thank the firefighters and first responders,” she said. “I watched them run right into the building. They are not thanked enough, especially today.”

One of the people inside the burning building was Anthony Love, who was asleep in his apartment. His three sons, ages 10, 9 and 2, were inside, too.

Love said he was awakened by the fire equipment.

“I could smell smoke, (and then) the firefighters came to the door,” he said.

Love called the boys’ mother, Amanda Love, who said she had to explain to a police officer the reason she needed to get to Crystal Lake.

Hilliard Division of Police officers had closed Davidson Road between Avery Road and the railroad tracks east of Crystal Lake while the fire was active.

“The boys are a little shaken up but OK,” said Amanda Love, who said the boys and their father would stay with her.

The American Red Cross assisted others in relocating, Warren said.

Julie Neal, another Crystal Lake resident, said she searched her apartment for the source of the smoke she had smelled before realizing it was an adjacent fire.

“It was scary,” she said.

Jay Conley, a resident of Crystal Lake, said he stepped outside after hearing the fire trucks arrive and saw the roof of the building on fire.

“The flames were high out of the roof,” he said.

Greg Lock, property manager at Crystal Lake, said July 8 that almost all of the 10 displaced families had been “relocated within the community.”

“We are committed to our residents and grateful there were no injuries or loss of life,” Lock said.

Lock also thanked the community for an “outpouring of donations” of goods for the families who had lost all their belongings. So much was received in the days after the fire, Lock said, that it was a challenge to store it all.

“If anyone else wants to help, (the displaced residents) could really use gift cards,” he said.

Gift cards could be used for essentials that have not been donated, Lock said.

The gift cards would be issued only as groups of 10, one to each family affected, and may be delivered to the Crystal Lake Apartments offices at 4663 Crystal Ball Drive during hours of operation.

Call 614-771-8380 for more information about making a donation.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo