Niles Fire Chief Larry Lamb labeled the blazes that broke out shortly after 9:30 a.m. “suspicious,’’ adding the buildings at 404 and 410 N. Fourth Street both were ablaze when firefighters arrived. The houses are next door to one another.
Police officers were seen checking footprints in the snow, and there were reports that witnesses saw someone leaving one of the houses shortly before flames were spotted. Firefighters from five departments were on the scene and appeared to be packing up their gear to return to their stations just before noon.
Lamb said both structures, in a historic district, were likely built in the early 1900s. Although firefighters managed to extinguish the blazes, the damage, particularly at 410 N. Fourth, was such that the structures may end up being demolished, he said.
Lamb said he didn’t believe either property had been occupied in at least a decade. The lone casualty, he said, was a raccoon that somehow had entered one of the buildings.
The fire chief wouldn’t speculate whether the fires might be linked to other vacant properties on the north side of town that burned about a year ago. Although arson was ruled in those blazes, no arrests were ever made.
Two men are serving prison sentences, however, for burning a stolen auto that also set fire to the FOP Lodge on North State Street, destroying the structure.