September 19, 2014

Elyria
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Car wash fire eyed as suspicious

ELYRIA — Smoke from the Wishy Washy Car Wash at 102 N. Gateway Blvd., around 11 a.m. Friday sent Elyria firefighters to investigate another suspicious fire.

Assistant Fire Chief Carl Keith, who works as the city’s fire marshal, said arson is suspected. The biggest clue was that people were seen running from the area at nearly the exact same time that the fire was reported.

“Witness statements have led to some suspects the police are interviewing,” he said.

The fire at the car wash is the latest in a string of fires in Elyria this week. Two basement fires occurred Wednesday — the first at the Robinson Building at 401 Broad St. and the second at Rothgery and Associates at 230 Third St.

On Thursday, firefighters extinguished downtown trash bin fires at 4:41 a.m. at 340 Broad St. and at 5:02 a.m. at 124 Middle Ave.

Another possible arson occurred around 11:10 a.m. Wednesday outside Psych and Pysch Services at 750 S. Abbe Road. The mental health center’s employees doused a fire set near trees outside the business, according to a police report.

An employee said the center’s surveillance video showed a man place an incendiary device near the trees. The man then drove his truck to the other side of the parking lot. The fire started about 15 minutes later.

The employee said the man may be a client of the facility.

With so many suspicious fires in such a short span, Keith said it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that all are related, but investigators have not seen a “clear connection” among the fires.

“A couple maybe, but not all of them,” Keith said. “We can’t say with 100 percent certainty that they are all are arsons. We are just going off the possibility that they may be.”

Assistant Fire Chief Ron Brlas said the car wash fire caused about $10,000 in damage.

The fire started on the exterior of the building in a motor home that was parked on the property. Investigators are not sure if it started inside or outside the motor home.

Brlas said the fire extended into the car wash where employees were working, but everyone got out of the building and no one was injured. Someone driving by alerted workers.

By the time firefighters arrived after 11 a.m., flames were showing. The fire had extended into a storage area, and Brlas said firefighters had to peel part of the exterior off the garage to attack the fire, which took about 10 minutes to contain.

“The guys did a good job and got it out really quick,” he said.

Huron Street resident Lamar Cole said he saw two boys around 16 years old running from a side shed on the property after the fire began. One boy holding a video recorder stopped on his property.

Within a few minutes, Cole said he saw that the building was engulfed.

“His little butt was taping it, too,” he said. “I’ve never seen the bad rascal before, either.”

Cole, who lives on Huron Street, said he screamed out asking the boys what they were doing, but they ran away.

He doesn’t believe the boys are from the neighborhood.

Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.