Police seeking suspects in string of Wellington arsons

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WELLINGTON, Ohio - Three weekend fires, including a massive blaze that destroyed a historic building that housed a former bird seed factory, have been ruled arson by the State Fire Marshal's Office.

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for setting the fires, which bring the total number of unsolved suspicious fires in Wellington since December to 6.

The factory fire, on Depot Street near North Main Street, was reported around 12:10 a.m. Sunday. It took 16 fire departments hours to extinguish the fire, which destroyed a 40,000 square foot building that housed Will-Do Packaging, a sponge packaging plant, as well as Salon Image, a hair salon. A firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion and released from the hospital.

"We're all out of a job, we're out of a place to work," said salon co-owner Melanie O'Neal, who said she's looking for a new workspace for the salon's eight employees. "Start over, repurchase things all over again, and it's nerve-wracking."

A short time after the factory fire was reported, investigators said a fire was set at a Police Auxiliary building on Kelly Street. A fire was also set at a home on Forrest Street.

"Three fires in one night makes it suspicious to us. Prior to that, though we've had three other suspicious fires all in this area," said Police Chief Tim Barfield, who said he's not sure if the suspicious fires are related.

The string of fires began in December, when the garage of a home on Clay Street was torched, with the homeowner inside the home.

"When it gets to this point and you're talking about residences, areas where people are living, working, now you're talking about lives, and it's only a matter of time before a life is lost or someone is critically injured," said Fire Chief Mike Wetherbee.

The fires left residents on edge and police seeking information that could lead to an arrest before more fires occur.

"We're asking our residents to report anything suspicious they've heard from somebody or those with firsthand knowledge, if they have the courage to step forward, we certainly want to talk to them," Barfield said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Wellington Fire District at 440-647-2245, Wellington Police at 440-647-2244 or the State Fire Marshal at 800-589-2728.