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150 Years of History, Gone in 10 Hours: The Day Garrettsville Went Up in Flames 

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Maschek's son had wanted to sell his podiatry shop in the building to become a medical missionary in Peru, so Maschek bought his business. He then bought the space from the owner of the vacant hardware store (and later, the lawn and garden shop). By 2012, he owned the whole building except for the first-floor clock repair shop, and he moved the offices of Maschek Construction to the vacant storefront.

"The county wanted to condemn the building," he explains. "I bought my son's portion of the building and said to them: Why don't you let me buy the remaining portion of the building for a nominal amount and I promise to have it all done (restored) in two years. Well, I did it in four months. I put all new siding on, new windows, new awnings in the front, I redid the whole first floor, remodeled everything, brought it all up to code. I went from having four units in there with people renting to eight units; we brought more business to the community."

***

Six months ago, there was a leak on the first floor roof at the back of the Buckeye Block Building, above the spot used by Miller Lawn & Garden. The roofers Mike Maschek usually used mainly worked on pitched roofs, so he hired a local guy he had used previously to fix the building's flat roof. That guy hired two guys to help him.

"I met them here in the morning, got them started, went home, which is about 15 minutes away from here, and came back around noon just to see how they were doing," recalls Maschek. The roofers were loading up roofing paper, heat-activated roofing cement, blowtorches and propane tanks. "Everything was going fine, they had no problem, so I grabbed a sandwich and went home."

An hour later one of the shop owners renting space in the Buckeye Block Building — Stephanie Dietelbach, the owner of the One Real Peach — called Maschek.

"Mike, your building's on fire," she said.

He quickly hopped in his truck while still thinking, "You have to be kidding me."

But as he turned on Route 88 from Mumford Road and Garrettsville came into view, "I said that's got to be the building. It was an unbelievable amount of smoke. Dark black smoke, just dark black smoke." Firefighters were already on scene starting the long battle.

According to state fire marshal reports, the roofers noticed smoke coming out of the building's soffit and quickly got off the roof. One of them ran to the nearby police station to report a fire; police told them to warn everybody in the shops out front. Dispatch alerted the tiny fire department just a few blocks away, and one ladder truck and one water tanker began fighting the growing fire six minutes later.

"The only place I could go was to the police station, so I pulled in there and came out front, only to see fire coming out of the top windows, and I couldn't believe how fast it was going up," he says. "To me, it was just like a dream: I couldn't believe it was happening."

Everybody got out safely. The buildings weren't so lucky. But it wasn't for lack of effort. It was partly due to the buildings' history. One snippet from the official fire marshal report:

We assembled multiple chainsaws, vent saws, and rotary saws for [trench cuts]. As soon as a blade would become dull or come off the bar another would take its place. The roof was opened only to discover that there was another roof under that roof. We sent the crews inside and began to pull ceilings under the same area that we cut open the roof. The ceiling was pulled and it was discovered that there was a metal ceiling above that.

Thirty-four fire departments came to help Garrettsville, flocking in from other small towns in Portage, Trumbull, Summit, Geauga and Cuyahoga counties, bringing in 142 firefighters in all. They'd work over the course of Saturday and into Sunday morning to quell the flames.

Eventually, "an estimated 1.5 million gallons of water was pumped, and 428.5 gallons of diesel fuel was used in the 50 hours and 36 minutes the fire department was present at the scene," according to a press release from Garrettsville-Freedom-Nelson's fire chief David Friess.

In the end, though, the fire destroyed the entire city block anyway, taking down every generations-old building on the town's main strip. There were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, no chance, really, that could stop the fire once it got going. It ripped through the old wooden buildings with force, leaving the city no choice afterward but to demolish everything it had touched.. Along with the Barber of G'Ville, destroyed in the fire were home decor shops Chic & Shabby and One Real Peach, antique shop Shaker Tree, Shiffer's Clock Repair, food bank Nelson Garrettsville Community Cupboard, hardware store T&B Tools, the Maschek Construction office, hearing aid shop New Hearing Sales & Services, Miller Lawn & Garden, the Garrettsville Foot & Ankle Clinic, and the law offices for attorneys Dann Timmons, Kim Kohli and Robert Mishler.

***

Investigators' first hurried hours on March 22 found them searching for the roofers: They'd disappeared after reporting the fire and warning some business owners.

But Garrettsville police did notice a familiar face in the crowd of onlookers. A 20-year-old who'd been arrested by the state fire marshal for torching an acquaintance's house in nearby Windham a few years back was in the crowd, recording the conflagration with his video camera. But that was a coincidence, and after a short questioning and polygraph test, he was released.

It wasn't until 6:20 p.m., five hours after the fire had started, that the 44-year-old roofer came to the station to be interviewed. A 24-minute recording of the conversation shows a man truly shaken, silent for long stretches and confused about and reluctant to release basic information about who his fellow roofers were and what they were doing. He admits to having had some beers prior to coming in, and his speech is sometimes circular and stunted as he tries to explain how the fire started.

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