Multiple Arson Fires Concern Neighborhood

Fire Chief Larry Helms said Friday’s morning’s structure fires in South Wheeling are definitely suspicious.

An uneasy feeling is sweeping the South Wheeling neighborhood after city firefighters were called to the 3100 block of Eoff Street, where they found several vacant row houses on fire just after 2 a.m. Friday. The blaze quickly spread through three of the adjoining structures, several of which were filled with junk and abandoned items.

Several hours into battling the blaze, a second fire call came in for a house at 86 31st St., a structure that had been the site of three previous fires in recent months.

Assistant Fire Chief Larry Murphy said there is “definitely an arsonist” at work in these latest South Wheeling fires. He said a passing motorist on Interstate 470 saw the flames on Eoff Street and called 911. When crews arrived, they faced heavy fire and locked doors.

“The houses were vacant but it was difficult to make entry. And the common roof had four or five layers of roofing that made it hard to fight. The fire had a pretty good start when we got there,” Murphy said.

A second alarm was issued for the fires, bringing more equipment and firefighters to the scene. Murphy said Cumberland Trail Fire Department in St. Clairsville brought its ladder truck to the scene to assist in putting out the blaze.

Cumberland Trail and Wheeling have a mutual aid agreement in such situations. Martins Ferry was on standby, he added.

The second fire, located around the corner from the row house blaze, was quickly extinguished. Fire investigators said there is little left to burn in the brick structure, but noted they believe someone keeps setting fires inside the building, which has been boarded up after previous fires.

One resident who lives a street over from the Friday fires said when he woke up this morning, he thought the neighbors had lit their barbecue grill. He said they have real concerns about an arsonist being on the loose in their neighborhood. He said he plans to install security cameras around his property.

“I knew about the fire around the corner a while back but this makes me nervous,” the man said.

Firefighters continued to put out hot spots in the row house property throughout the morning Friday. Debris from the burned out buildings covered portions of the sidewalk.

No injuries were reported at either fire. The structures will have to be torn down.