$300K of property, contents damage in Cleveland Road fire

Joseph Gilroy • Jan 15, 2020 at 3:00 PM

The cause of a Norwalk structure fire Monday night remains under investigation.

The blaze was reported just before 8:20 p.m. in the area of Cleveland and Old South State roads.

Townsend Township Volunteer Fire Chief Michael Hahn was driving by when he noticed smoke coming from a structure. He circled back and smelled asphalt before calling it in. 

Firefighters from Norwalk, Milan Township and Townsend Township responded to the alarm and found a moderate plume of smoke pouring from the structure, according to the report.

Firefighters located where they believe the fire started but were unable to determine the cause. Capt. Rick Perry, acting Norwalk fire chief, said arson isn’t suspected at this time. 

“We have the location, but we don’t yet have the cause of the fire,” he added. 

“We will meet with the insurance investigators, probably within the next 24 hours,” Perry said. “We will meet them on scene and we will go back in and go through everything from the beginning to see if we can determine a cause.

“We actually took pictures of everything inside before we overhauled it,” he added. “So, the insurance investigators will actually see the different burn patterns and be able to pinpoint about where it started and then they can do their investigation into it.”

The building owned by local businessman Len Searles was used for storage.

Firefighters estimate there was $300,000 worth of property and content damage; the property value was listed at $220,000 and $200,000 for the contents before the incident, according to the report. 

Searles currently owns a car dealership. He was using the property to store excess inventory in the building.

“The property was just used to store inventory from a couple businesses that we have closed and another that my daughter and I currently own together,” Searles said. 

Not a lot of people went in and out of the building and Searles said it wasn’t uncommon to go by with nobody checking on it for several weeks.

“I’m in shock right now,” he said. “It’s hard to describe how I feel about it. ... Other than to say that I am thankful that there wasn’t anyone in the building and none of the firefighters were injured. 

“There was quite a bit of damage and many firefighters (who) responded,” he added. “The last time I counted, I saw 27 firefighters at the scene.”

Searles said he had some plans in mind for the building in the future, but doesn’t know what will happen now.

“I’m just in limbo because I don’t know what the insurance company is going to do,” he said. “I have not been inside yet to look at it because the insurance company told me it would be best if I left it alone until they got the adjusters here. 

“Before all of this happened, I did have a few ideas for the property rolling around in my mind,” he continued. “I thought about using it to park some of the problem cars that need work, but that is all on hold for now.”

Fires are never a good thing, but Perry said he was pleased nobody was hurt. He praised all parties involved in fighting the fire.

“There were no injuries to occupants or firefighters; that’s about as good of a result that you can get from one of these things,” he said. “I definitely want to thank the Milan Township Fire Department, the Townsend Township Fire Department, our department and the Huron County Sheriff’s Office for their help.” 

Hahn couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

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