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Fire at abandoned home called suspicious by firefighters

Melissa Topey • Oct 7, 2010 at 6:07 AM

Firefighters said they're trying to determine the cause of a fire Wednesday in a vacant home on Crystal Rock Avenue, though it appears to be suspicious.

At about 4:30 p.m., neighbors called 911 after noticing smoke rolling from under the roof at the back of the home at 205 Crystal Rock Ave.

Margaretta Township firefighters arrived at the scene in minutes, finding a bedroom at the back of the house on fire.

They knocked the fire out in 10 minutes, but the bedroom sustained substantial damage and the attic had structural damage.

The home has been vacant for about a year, firefighters said, and there's been no electricity or even an electric meter at the home the entire time.

"The meter is torn out, and I don't see an obvious propane tank," Margaretta fire Chief Tom Keimer said. "At this point, it's suspicious."

John and Ruth Hensley own the house.

About 45 minutes after the fire was extinguished, the Hensleys arrived at the home. They parked their car on Bellevue Road and sat inside it, watching from a distance as firefighters inspected the house.

John and Ruth aren't the first in their line of relatives to endure a house fire. In addition to their home, two other homes owned by Hensley family members have caught fire in recent years, Keimer said.

Margaretta Township officials recently condemned and tore down two nearby buildings owned by the family.

The Hensleys had been doing yard work and mowing the lawn at their Crystsal Rock home just minutes before the fire, neighbors said.

Michael Anderson — a boyfriend of John and Ruth's daughter, Brittany Hensley — said the propane heater in the home had been shut off.

John Hensley, meanwhile, said he and family members left to purchase materials for a lawn tool shortly before the fire. He was driving on Ohio 101 when he got a call from a family member who told them their home was on fire.

The Hensleys said they don't know what started the blaze.

"We've had problems with kids getting inside," John said.

Neighbors, too, said they've seen kids enter another vacant home that sits next to the Hensleys' house.

"It scares you," said Audrey Elswick, a Crystal Rock Avenue resident. "Someone can get burned up real fast."

No one was injured in the fire.

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