Monday, July 03, 2000

Illegal fireworks suspected in blaze

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Amy Neville is being hailed as a hero after she and boyfriend Jim Schumacher alerted apartment residents to a fire.
(Luis Sanchez photo)
| ZOOM |
        GREEN TOWNSHIP — This is a cautionary tale about an unknown fireworks user whose carelessness left 24 people homeless and a quick-thinking neighbor who might have saved their lives.

        Green Township fire investigators spent Sunday looking for one, praising the other, and reminding the public on July 4 that personal fireworks are illegal in Ohio.

        Officials suspected a bottle rocket landed on a roof at the Tollbridge Manor Apartments, igniting shingles and causing $420,000 damage to a 12-unit building.

        “I'm not a hero,” Amy Neville said from her apartment adjacent to the fire on Bridgetown Road. “I'm just a neighbor who would want somebody else to do that if it was my building, that's all.”

        The 26-year-old cardiac nurse at Christ Hospital was driving home at 1 a.m. Saturday when she saw the fire.

        She stopped at the apartments and began yelling and hammering away at each resident's door buzzer.

        Boyfriend Jim Schumacher started banging on first-floor residents' windows.

  Most personal fireworks use is illegal in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Those prohibited include bottle rockets and Roman candles.
  Fire officials urge residents to enjoy sanctioned events, but not to set off their own devices. Sparklers are legal in the three states, but firefighters discourage their use because they burn at very high temperatures and may be handled by children.
        “I guess at one point, when I was on the patio, some embers were coming down,” Ms. Neville said. “But getting those people out was more important than some ashes falling down next to me.”

        Two women, who possibly were sleeping, “poked their heads out like "Who's this lunatic laying on my doorbell?'” Ms. Neville said.

        Fire Chief Robert Weitzel called Ms. Neville a hero.

        The building is uninhabitable, officials said.

        “Several of those tenants didn't have renter's insurance,” the chief said.

        “One woman, a single parent, said, "I don't have anything.'”

        In Ohio, it is legal to purchase class-C fireworks (typically bottle rockets and Roman candles) but illegal to use them.

        Customers are required to sign a form saying the fireworks will be used in another state.

        Fireworks were reported being set off in the area earlier that night. Officials say the blaze might have smoldered for hours.

        “The roof is gone, so there's no way to look at a burn pattern,” fire Lt. Mike Nie said.

        “The bottom line is, it's illegal to use. They're cheap, mass-produced, the quality control isn't always what it should be. Very few people are buying them with any malice, but ... .”


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