Breaking news. Updates likely.
HEBRON, Ohio — The State Fire Marshal’s office has declared arson to be the cause of three Licking County barn fires that occurred the morning of Aug. 18.
“We have ruled the fires arson,” said public information officer Shane Cartmill.
At this time, it is too early to determine whether all three fires are connected. However, “given the close proximity and times of the fires, that possibility has not been eliminated,” according to a statement from the marshal’s office.
The first barn fire, at 6390 Refugee Road, was reported at 5:13 a.m. The second barn fire, at 3793 National Road, was reported at 5:24 a.m. The third barn fire, at 7660 Refugee Road, was reported at 6:21 a.m.
Tom Bingham, battalion chief for West Licking Joint Fire District, said the 6390 Refugee Road barn and was owned by Joe and Amy Hietter who own Nut N’ Horse Farms. The farm processes walnuts.
Bingham said that barn was being used to store equipment and estimated the loss to be $150,000.
The second barn was a 60 by 60-foot pole structure owned by the Penick family at 3793 National Road. Fred Penick, who owns Way-View Cattle Co., said he lost about 2,000 square bales of alfalfa hay, as well as a silage wagon, hay wagon and some cattle facilities and gates.
Damage was estimated at $30,000-$35,000. Penick lives off site and got word of the blaze from some neighbors.
“By the time I got there the barn was fully engulfed,” he said.
Now, he’s just glad no animals were in the barn at the time, and trying to decide what to do next.
“I’m still trying to collect my thoughts and get some insurance things done before I destroy any more evidence,” he said about the cleanup. “Then we’ll regroup and see if my uncle wants to rebuild the structure.”
The third barn, located at 7660 Refugee Road, housed 45 sheep and four horses, Bingham said. No animals were injured.
Bingham said he heard as many as 17 fire departments were involved in putting out the three blazes.
He said farmers and landowners in the area were planning to keep a close eye on their property and their neighbors, especially at night.
“If it is an arson, who knows if he will strike again,” Bingham said.
Some hope may lie at the Hietter barn, where a video security camera reportedly picked up someone with a flashlight. The video has been turned over to state fire inspectors.
“We are analyzing it right now,” Cartmill said. “Hopefully that will eventually help us.”
All evidence is being analyzed by the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Forensic Laboratory. Information from the analysis will be made available to fire investigators within 7 to 10 days, according to the office.
On Aug. 19, state fire marshal investigators posted Blue Ribbon Arson Reward signs at each property. The Blue Ribbon Arson committee is offering up to a $5,000 reward to anyone who has information about the person or persons responsible for Thursday’s fires.
No tip should be considered insignificant, according to the office. Anyone who saw something out of the ordinary or has heard someone talking about the fires with an unusual level of interest or knowledge should contact the Division of State Fire Marshal at 1-800-589-2728.
The investigation is being conducted by the Division of State Fire Marshal, West Licking Joint Fire District and the Licking County Sheriff’s Office. Multiple additional local fire and police agencies are assisting.