The fires occupied all of the city's available firefighting forces.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- City fire investigators said arson was the cause of three fires at vacant structures in a South Side neighborhood before daybreak today.
No one was injured in the fires, which were along St. Louis Avenue.
The first fire began around 4:45 a.m. and gutted a brick building at 2304 Hillman, on the corner of St. Louis Avenue, said Fire Chief John J. O'Neill Jr.
Firefighters had left the burned out former grocery store when two more fires were set at 5:50 and 6 a.m.
One destroyed a home at 319 St. Louis Ave. The other destroyed a home at 363 St. Louis Ave., at the Rosedale Avenue intersection.
"We've got someone running around lighting them up," O'Neill said as he supervised firefighters around 6:30 a.m.
All the same
The three fires were all set on the first floors of the buildings in rear areas, he said. Arson investigators are set to canvass the neighborhood today to ask if anyone had seen anything.
The fires broke out on a street with many homes in need of repair. One newly built home, still awaiting a tenant, is next to 317 St. Louis Ave., and firefighters worked to prevent it from being damaged by the smoke and fire.
As teens walked past with backpacks on their shoulders, they watched the activity.
The fires occupied all of the city's available fire forces, O'Neill said. With 15 firefighters recently laid off, there was none left at the city's stations, he added.
Sixty workers were laid off in August because of the city's financial problems. The layoffs forced O'Neill to close one of the eight fire stations and rotate closings at some others.
The fire at the Rosedale intersection had gained much headway by the time firefighters from stations on the East and North sides arrived, O'Neill said. Closed stations and cross-town response caused the delay, he said.
A fire in another part of the city would have required him to pull firefighters from St. Louis Avenue, he said. Or, he said, he could have called off-duty firefighters in, a process that could take 30 to 45 minutes.