To that end, a reward of up to $5,000 for information is being offered by the Ohio Blue Ribbon Arson Committee.
“Basically, we believe it to be an arson fire at this point,” Gallipolis City Police Lt. Keith Elliott said.
The conclusion was based on a preliminary check of the fire scene on the 500 block of Second Avenue by the state fire marshal and Gallipolis Volunteer Fire Chief Bob Poling, who are working with police on the investigation.
The fire heavily damaged two unused buildings owned by Rick Martin between the offices of Wiseman Real Estate and Big Bend Realty, and led to smoke and water damage to the Wiseman office and an upstairs apartment.
The unoccupied buildings are now “structurally unstable,” Poling said, and barricades have been placed in front of them to prevent any injuries to the public.
Elliott and Poling said there have been several fires in Gallipolis in the latter part of 2005 that are considered arsons, although a link with them and the downtown fire has not been established.
“Problem is, we've had several arson fires over the last few months,” Elliott said. “There's not a direct tie between the fires we've had in the past and this one, but we are still looking into it.”
That's where the public's help is needed. Any information on this fire or any of the other arsons can be relayed to city police Detective Sgt. Jeff Boyer at 446-1313 or 441-6017, or to Poling at 446-9533. Information will be treated confidentially, authorities said.
Poling said the fire is believed to have started in one of the unused structures. The wall on one next to the alley between it and Big Bend Realty collapsed while about 70 firefighters from five area departments fought to control the blaze.
The fire was reported to Gallia County 9-1-1 around 10 p.m. by the occupant of the apartment above the Wiseman office after she smelled smoke.
Gallipolis received assistance from Middleport, Point Pleasant, W.Va., Springfield Township and District 2 firefighters and brought the fire under control by 3 a.m. Thursday. Gallipolis firefighters returned to extinguish hot spots later in the morning.
Because damage was not as heavy to the real estate office, broker-owner David Wiseman expects to continue operating out of there following clean-up.