New Castle News

September 28, 2012

Vacant house blaze ruled as arson

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A haze of smoke blanketed downtown New Castle yesterday as a three-story house was consumed by flames.

New Castle police and fire officials are investigating the blaze as an arson.

Fire broke out inside the vacant structure at 254 W. Grant St. just after 7 a.m.

A woman who called 911 said she and her neighbor were waiting to get bread next door at the Salvation Army when she saw the flames.

The woman, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons, said she saw a man over at the house walk rapidly away from it with his hands in his pockets.

She said the man had short dark hair, black jeans and a white shirt and she gave that information to the police and fire departments.

City firefighters used a ladder truck with a bucket to reach strategic positions with a hose so they could beat down the flames and protect neighboring buildings. The flames, leapt high in the air, generating billowing smoke, intense heat and chunks of falling and flying debris.

“It’s arson,” New Castle fire chief Tom Maciarello said. He determined that because there was no power source and the house was completely involved within minutes.

“We were at the Salvation Army waiting to get bread,” the witness said. “A guy walked past the house and I saw light flickering in the Salvation Army windows.”

She looked over and saw the flames and called 911 on her cell phone.

“Then the fire just erupted. It went from the first floor to the seoncd and then was just everywhere.”

The Salvation Army was closed at the time, but the woman explained that they just happened to have arrived early — at 7:05 a.m. — and were waiting for it to open.

“When you come to get bread, you have to get here early,” her neighbor said. “You’re guaranteed to get it if you are the first one here.”

New Castle policeman John George saw the fire while on patrol.

“I was coming down West Washington Street and saw the orange glow,” he said. George is the investigating officer.

The fire attracted spectators from neighboring businesses in the area who were going to work. Some were armed with pocket cameras to film the sight.

Union Baptist Church reported to the fire department that it had water in the building and soot on the first floor. The church is located across from the house that burned.

Maciarello said any information given by the witnesses was turned over to city police.

“We’re still looking into it,” police chief Bobby Salem said yesterday morning, adding he had not conferred with the fire chief yet about the circumstances of the fire.

The house was posted for sale by its out-of-town owner. According to county assessor’s office records, the house was owned by G.&J.C. LP of 14 Foley Drive, North Reading, Mass.

Attempts to reach someone at the phone number on the For Sale sign were unsuccessful yesterday.