Sunday, May 26, 2002

Historic landmark fire ruled accidental

By Jim Hannah,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Contractors began removing rubble Saturday from the burned-out Odd Fellows Hall after fire investigators ruled the blaze accidental.

[photo] Workers from O.W. Taylor of Cincinnati on Saturday remove parts of the fire escape from the Odd Fellows Hall in Covington.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        The fire started Tuesday morning in the ceiling area of a former pawnshop on the first floor of the historic landmark at the corner of Fifth Street and Madison Avenue, fire Chief Joe Heringhaus said.

        “It hasn't been completely determined what caused the fire,” he said, “but it's not arson and no longer considered a possible crime scene.”

        The second and third floors of the 146-year-old building had been closed to the public since the 1950s. Two businesses on the first floor were operating the night before the fire.

        Chief Heringhaus said investigators determined that the fire started a third of the way back from the front of pawnshop.

        He said no accelerants were used because tests indicate no hydrocarbons were present in the area of the fire's origin.

        The fire was a blow to city redevelopment plans. The state awarded the owners of the hall a $550,000 grant to renovate the building, and city officials wanted to use that renovation as a cornerstone for downtown development.

        The owners, Covington developers Damian and Kelly Sells and Tony Milburn of Covington, are attempting to save the exterior walls of the building so they can keep the grant and be eligible for federal historic tax incentives. Developers have until June 3 to brace the burned-out structure's remaining three walls and present a reconstruction plan.

        Chief Heringhaus said fire investigators from the Covington Fire Department, Covington Police and Ohio Casualty Insurance Co. will go back into the building this week to try to determine the exact cause of the fire.

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