GREENUP - A 14-year-old boy is in police custody on suspicion of starting the Tuesday night fire that destroyed the former Ettelbrick Shoe Factory building in the center of town.
"Officers picked him up in Clark County at a Martinsville residence. This was based on information we obtained by talking to people at the scene," Greenup police Chief Bill Cline said Wednesday morning in his office in the municipal building just north of the fire scene.
The suspect was transferred to the Cumberland County jail and arrangements were pending for transfer to a juvenile detention center. The teenager's name was not released by authorities early Wednesday.
Cline did not rule out the possibility of an additional arrest.
"We're looking for a possible second suspect," he said.
The fire, first reported about 10 p.m. Tuesday, left the brick factory building a smoking ruin. Shoe operations ended many years ago, but two men were using the building to store antiques on the east side and plastic recyclable materials on the west side.
"You had the building full of all kinds of antiques for the business owned by Calvin Wilson, and Tony Zhang had Greenup Recycling with all kinds of plastics on the other side of the old factory. So the fire was spreading quickly," Greenup fire Chief Mike Carlen said Wednesday morning as firefighters sprayed water on some hot spots of the structure.
The fire was going through the roof on the east side when Greenup firefighters prepared their hoses. Their firehouse is only a short distance away, but they realized they needed plenty of help to contain the blaze.
Eventually, more than 75 firefighters were called to assist from Greenup, Toledo, Lincoln Fire Protection District in Coles County, Casey and fire protection districts for the rural communities of Hutton and Crooked Creek. Cline said this was one of the biggest structure fires he can remember during his years in Greenup.
The fire kept feeding on its fuel of antiques and plastics and lit up the sky. By 11 p.m., the east section of the building caved in, and then flames spread to the west side through a window and vent, Carlen said.
"We had concerns with the feed store over there and houses to the back side. We did have to extinguish some hot spots on some nearby roofs," Carlen said.
Brad Gray, owner and operator, with his wife, Julie, of Gray Feed and Seed, was awakened by a call from the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department. The feed and seed business is located adjacent to the east side of the old factory.
"I was told I ought to get over here because my shop was right by the fire. When I got halfway here from Toledo I saw the sky was so bright. I wasn't sure what I would see when I got here," Gray said while looking over the historic building.
He and his wife saved business papers from the office while his daughter, Alisa, concentrated on a different rescue effort from her family's business on Illinois Street.
"She saved some kittens and their mother," Gray said with a laugh as the calico feline sniffed around the grain bins that were at risk hours before.
"They used a ladder truck to keep the fire off my business. I won't complain about the cost of that truck ever again. There was an explosion risk if it would have spread our way. Grain bin fires are unpredictable and I also had a propane tank and a diesel fuel tank on this side, too," Gray said.
The initial estimate of damage was $750,000, but that does not include all the contents of the building yet, Carlen said.
Zhang was preparing to ship tons of recyclables to China. He had 60 tons of plastic items, ranging from bottles to greenhouse materials. He indicated he did not have insurance on the materials.
"He had been collecting and getting ready to ship the materials over to China. The market for recycling had been down so he had been waiting to get better prices," said Kent Donna, Zhang's company translator who assisted the businessman with interviews with different authorities Wednesday morning.
The fire drew many people, including some with family ties to the old shoe factory. On the wall of the Greenup Municipal Building is a 1933 photograph of Ettelbrick employees gathered outside the factory.
"Who knows what that property will become now? Economically, to the city it was not that valuable anymore. But the history of the building, how do you replace that?" Gray said.
Contact Herb Meeker at email@example.com or 238-6869.