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Owners plan to rebuild

Courtney Astolfi • Feb 20, 2014 at 8:47 AM

A fire gutted Milan’s iconic pizza shop early Wednesday morning, but Jim’s Pizza Box owner Jim West is determined to begin anew.

“We start rebuilding today” West said.

On Wednesday afternoon, a swarm of family members, well-wishers and Milan residents gathered behind Jim’s Pizza Box in a show of support as state fire marshals investigated the blaze.

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West emerged from the charred shop’s back door, emotional and exhausted. He has owned and operated the place for 36 years and in just an hour’s time, it was almost entirely gone.

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“It was my life,” West said, taking a moment to regain his composure.

Just 10 hours prior, at 2 a.m., a patrolling Milan police officer noticed the shop’s front windows were blackened and alerted dispatchers.

Twenty-four Milan Township firefighters soon descended on the scene, eventually aided by 10 firefighters from Norwalk and Huron Township.    It took them a short while to knock down the brunt of the blaze, then about an hour to extinguish the whole thing, Milan Township fire chief Brian Rospert said.

The fire took root in one of the shop’s storage rooms, devouring its contents and spreading into the ceiling, Rospert said.

The flames were essentially contained to that area of the restaurant, but extreme heat and smoke penetrated the rest of the shop, Rospert said.

“The fire was burning up in the ceiling for quite some time and the heat kept building up” Rospert said.

Some smoke did travel into the upstairs apartments, but it was minor and everyone escaped without injury, Rospert said.

Given the fire, smoke, heat and water damage, almost nothing inside Jim’s Pizza Box was salvageable. Officials estimated $350,000 in losses.

The Ohio State Fire Marshal ruled the fire’s cause “undetermined” on Wednesday afternoon. West, meanwhile, speculated it was caused by a faulty electrical fixture inside the storage room.

Despite a ravaged interior, the brick-and-mortar skeleton of Jim’s Pizza Box endures. With a little encouragement from relatives, West plans to rebuild.

“I’m not willing to give it up. My plan is to re-open” he said.

West mentioned no timeline of when that may come to pass, but sooner or later, one way or another, the scent of freshly-baked dough will waft across the village square once more.

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