WARREN - While nearly 200 people on Monday watched a film about dilapidated buildings in the city, one of its long-standing eyesores was burning.
Firefighters were dispatched to the former Pamela Manor apartments, 1157 and 1167 Tod Ave., about a half hour after the film "Abandoned," a documentary about abandoned and dilapidated housing in Warren, began its premier showing at the downtown YWCA.
Warren city firefighters pump more water onto hot spots Tuesday morning at the Pamela Manor apartment complex, 1157 and 1167 Tod Ave. N.W. Arson is suspected in the blaze that began about 7:30 p.m. Monday. Tribune Chronicle photo / R. Michael Semple
"This is a spectacular example of what happens when buildings and houses are left vacant and in disrepair," Nate Brown, a spokesman with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, said Tuesday. "This shows a need for an aggressive demolition program. There are hundreds of abandoned properties around the city that can catch fire.''
The fire department believes blaze was intentionally set, Chief Ken Nussle said.
"We are still probing the fire," he said. "Investigators were not able to enter the structure because of its instability, so we are relying on witnesses."
Firefighters were called out about 7:30 p.m. Monday and remained into late Tuesday morning.
Nussle estimated that it would cost approximately $300,000 to replace the buildings. However, because the buildings should have been demolished years ago, they had no cash value.
Leaders of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, which has been fighting to get the buildings torn down for nearly three years, worry that the now partially burned buildings will leave a greater danger and bigger eyesore than they had before the fire.
"The vacant buildings already were a danger because kids would go into them to play, and there were people living in them," Robert Weitzel, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, said. "If the fire causes a speeding up of the process of getting these building torn down, perhaps it was a good thing. However, we have a fear they may be left half way up and half way down."
Weitzel said the NWNA has been following court actions against Riverside Club Apartments LLC, which owned the two-building complex, for several years. Donald L. Guarnieri is listed as its statutory agent.
The complex has been vacant since September 2001, according to a demolition notice. Most of the windows were broken with others boarded over.
"We protested outside of the buildings and attended court hearings involving the buildings," Weitzel said. "We made sure they knew we were out there."
In addition to being a place in which people can get hurt and crimes could take place, Weitzel said the properties bring down property values of surrounding houses and make it difficult to market others.
Mayor Doug Franklin said the city has been, without success, attempting to get the buildings torn down since before he was named safety-service director more than nine years ago.
Franklin said one of the problems is the cost of the demolition, especially considering the added expense of asbestos removal.
Current Safety-service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said the state now is in control of the property due to some legal issues and the city will begin discussions about having them torn down.
Prior to this week's blaze, the department determined that no firefighter would enter the buildings to fight an ongoing fire because of their conditions. The buildings have been on the city's dangerous buildings list for several years.
"There were walls that had been removed many times over the years by vandals stealing the plumbing for scrap metal," Nussle said. "We created a defensive fire attack and said under no circumstances would a firefighter enter the building."