NILES — Police in Niles still don’t know who’s responsible for the fire that destroyed the FOP Lodge at the north end of North State Street.
Investigators attributed the fire to arson but said at the scene of the March 14 blaze that it didn’t start inside the one-story building. Instead, the fire began either inside or outside a car that had been parked under an awning, just outside an entrance door.
The flames spread from there to the lodge. The car that was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived shortly after 5 a.m. hadn’t been at the property the night before, when a club met at the frequently leased facility, investigators said.
Flames were shooting from the roof as well when firefighters arrived, prompting crews to fight what was labeled a defensive fire. The structure was a total loss.
Niles Police Detective Lt. Rick Krueger said Tuesday the car next to the lodge had been reported stolen from a residence on Hill Street just prior to the fire. It was one of two reported stolen that morning from the same general neighborhood, he said, pointing out the other auto was taken about 2 a.m. from a residence on Burns Street.
The car stolen on Burns Street was later discovered crashed, Krueger said. Possibly, the person or people responsible for stealing that car then stole the second car and set it on fire next to the lodge, where the flames weren’t initially spotted.
Krueger said the owner of the car burned at the lodge had no involvement in the incident. As for the person or persons who did, he said he has no one in mind but he’s hopeful a $5,000 reward for information will result in tips that could solve the case.
“We’re eliminating a bunch,’’ he said when asked about suspects.
Anyone with information should call 269-683-1313.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: