GARRETTSVILLE: An unusual amount of traffic congested the streets in downtown Garrettsville with onlookers wanting to see what was left after a fire roared through some 13 businesses on one of the main streets in the 150-year-old village in Portage County.
Garrettsville firefighters were still on the scene Sunday after 131 firefighters from 34 units responded Saturday afternoon to battle the blaze.
Piles of rubble replaced viable businesses on the north side of Main Street. Icicles dangling from the debris reminded people of just how cold it still was. Temperatures hovered in the mid-20s Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a shame — the history is gone,” said James Roupe, 53, of Garrettsville, who returned to the scene after he and his wife, Amy, spent hours Saturday watching firefighters try to douse the flames.
Amy Roupe, 39, who has lived in Garrettsville since she was 3, said she enjoyed shopping in the downtown stores. She was shocked by the amount of damage.
“We don’t know who started it. We don’t know what happened. We just came up here to look,” she said. “It was still burning when we came Saturday. It kept burning and burning. We stayed for about three hours.”
She said it was too cold to stand outside Sunday for a long time and there was nothing else to see.
No cause has been determined yet.
“The fire is still under investigation; no dollar loss has been determined at this time,” said Fire Chief David Friess. “Firefighters are still on the scene putting out hot spots and will stay at least until Monday afternoon.”
Friess said two firefighters were injured.
“Both were treated and released for smoke inhalation and are home doing fine. One of the firefighters was from Garrettsville and the other from Windham,” he said.
Friess said the fire is under investigation by the state fire marshal and the Portage County Fire Investigation Unit. He estimates the investigation will take two to three weeks.
Friess said he and his firefighters had only a couple of hours of sleep.
Firefighters said they were tired, but still going strong.
“It’s very upsetting and very sad,” said Linda Cherry, a Garrettsville resident of 31 years who came to see the damage for the first time. “The shops will be missed, but Garrettsville has strong people. We’ll all pull together. It won’t be the same, but we’ll see the outcome. I’m just glad no one got hurt.”
She and her husband, Jan, a former Bainbridge firefighter, (one of the departments that responded to the call) said their next stop was to drop off food and water to those who helped.
A meeting for Garrettsville business owners is scheduled for 7 p.m. today in the commons area of Garfield High School, 10233 state Route 88 in Garrettsville.
“We are trying to provide a one-stop shop of all of the information they’ll need, to walk them through insurance, gaps in insurance and government assistance that’s available,” said Tommie Jo Marsilio, a community leader and former Portage County commissioner. “The big thing now is to try to get the cellphone numbers of all the business owners because everyone knows the business numbers, but that’s not very helpful right now.”
Although some of the businesses on the south side of the block were open to business owners and close friends, Police Chief Anthony Milicia and police officers kept onlookers from going beyond the police tape.
Not just community members came as spectators, but people from surrounding areas such as Streetsboro, Kent and Hiram.
The police chief said although there was a crowd of people, it was nothing like the crowds on Saturday when he estimated about 500 people lined the street.
The community has a population of about 2,200.
“This is the worse disaster that we’ve had here,” said Milicia, who has been chief since 2009. “But we have a good strong community and we will bounce back. That’s the bottom line. The way the people have showed up during the last 24 hours has been phenomenal, outside the community as well as inside.”
He said about 50 people, including employees and patrons, had to evacuate the buildings Saturday. In the entire block of buildings that caught fire, only the one made of brick, an office for two lawyers, remained standing.
Friess said it was the biggest fire he’s encountered since he was appointed chief in 2006. He’s been on the Garrettsville Fire Department since 1995.
“We got the call at 1:15 p.m. Saturday,” Friess said. “We’ve had 25 firefighters on the scene. We have seven trucks and cover 52 square miles, including two square miles in Garrettsville. We started releasing trucks between 8 and 9 o’clock Saturday night.”
He said he was pleased with the mutual aid from area fire departments.
“It went very well, considering there were 34 fire departments here,” he said. “Everybody seemed to commingle very well and cooperate, and they provided a beneficial service to our village.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.