Two units fight blaze at apartments in Liberty for second time in 8 days

By Robert Guttersohn


A second fire in eight days within the same vacant apartment complex drew more than gawkers Friday.

Fire Chief Michael Durkin said he suspects that someone has decided to make sure the apartments were demolished.

Friday’s fire burned down the second of the five Liberty Square apartments close to the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Naylor-Lloyd Road.

As half the structure collapsed, the state fire marshal already was on the way to investigate a cause for the blaze, Durkin said.

Similar to the Nov. 3 fire that burned down all but the concrete foundation of the southernmost apartment, Durkin said the blaze started between 3 and 4 p.m.

And just as in the first fire, the fire department let it burn to the ground. The Vienna Township Fire Department also assisted.

Durkin said when the firefighters first arrived, the apartment’s blaze wasn’t completely out of control. But all units within the complex were vacant for five years and were gutted, causing the chief to worry about their structural soundness.

“There are so many hazards,” Durkin said. “The last thing you want is someone falling from the third floor.”

Second, he said the only fire hydrant within the complex had been turned off years ago.

Knowing the apartment was empty, there was no reason to risk firefighters’ lives, he said.

Instead, he made sure the Liberty and Vienna firefighters cordoned off the blaze by wetting down the trees surrounding the complex.

Liberty Police Sgt. Dan Kovach also was on the scene.

“This place was prime in the ’80s when I was in high school,” he said.

Trustee Jason Rubin and zoning Administrator Jim Rodway said the apartments were about 50 years old. But since they closed, the complex became a haven for crime.

Rubin said when he became trustee in 2010, he made razing the Liberty Square apartments a goal. But because of the amount of asbestos within the units, it would have cost the township $500,000 to demolish all the apartments, he said.

The trustees sought grants to pay for it, but residents grew impatient. Both Rubin and Rodway said they fielded calls regarding Liberty Square almost every day.

“Somebody wants them down,” said Liberty firefighter Justin Graham while standing with fellow firefighter Fred Shaffer among falling ash.

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