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Dayton investigators work to pinpoint cause of Hewitt Soap factory fire 

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 6:15 AM
By: Breaking News Staff, Kara Driscoll, Cornelius Frolik - Staff Writers

UPDATE @ 6:48 p.m.:

Dayton arson investigators continue their work to pinpoint the cause of a massive fire at the former Hewitt Soap Company factory.

The blaze was the city’s largest since the same property burned one year ago.

Friday afternoon and into the early evening, demolition crews knocked down the charred remains of the building on the northern end of Linden Avenue.

>>RELATED: Doppler radar captures large smoke plume from Hewitt Soap Company fire

Part of the structure collapsed during the fire, which could be seen from miles away. Sky7 captured that part of the incident. 

Dayton Fire Chief Jeff Payne ordered the emergency demolition of large sections of what was left of the building. It was an immediate danger because the walls were at risk of collapse.

The part of the factory that burned in December 2006 already had been reduced to rubble. The city paid a demolition firm to clean up the site, and the project wrapped up in October. 

Brett Houseman, whose family owns the Hewitt Soap Company property, says the fire may have been started by a trespasser. He said the building attracts metal scrappers, vandals and other unwanted persons.

Houseman said he wants city leaders to get tougher on those who scrap metal illegally, and those who trespass in vacant buildings. He said they are a frequent problem, they can cause a lot of damage and they put people in danger.

"The city is not doing enough to stop this," he said. 

A 911 caller on his way to work around 6 a.m. called in the fire.

“Linden Avenue, I think it's the old Hewitt Soap Factory again. It's smoking, it is smoking everywhere, I can see flames inside. I'm going to work, the smoke is just everywhere it's firing everywhere," the caller said.

“This was a really, really big fire, and when I got there, every floor was completely involved,” Payne said.  

The cause of the fire at the property in December 2016 has never been determined because the city had the southern portion of the factory complex razed and the site cleared. Area 50, a building between the two that caught fire, remains standing.  

Former Dayton soap factory’s bad year: 2 fires, collapse and demolition

Today’s fire required a massive response. Six of the fire department’s eight engines responded, as well as three of the departement’s four fire trucks, officials said.  

Firefighters did not enter the factory building for safety reasons because the structure was at risk of collapsing.

Payne said the building’s age and remnants of soap products made at the factory might have affected how fast it burned. Payne said he was told the owners previously had secured all doors, and there wasn’t much inside.

He was unable to comment on why people were believed in the building before the fire.

PHOTOS: Flames shoot out of former Hewitt Soap Factory

Bob Ringo, facilities manager, is responsible for keeping the buildings secure. No one is allowed inside, except for the he and the owners. He said it’s been an “ongoing battle” to keep out the homeless.

RELATED: Dayton soap factory demolition

“I just take care of it -- keep it safe for everybody, keep all the riffraff out. I was in here (Thursday) about 3:30 p.m. and everything was fine,” he said. “I come to work today and they said it was on fire. I keep all of these buildings here safe. Keep them locked down, keep people from breaking in and stealing.”

PHOTOS: Flames shoot out of former Hewitt Soap Factory

The soap factory, founded in 1897, was in operation until 2004 when it was bought by a competitor. That competitor later closed the facility. At its peak, it was the nation’s second-largest maker of specialty soaps, including the small bars used in hotels.

Houseman thanked fire crews for their work, which included saving the Area 50 structure. Doors had been installed there as protection.

He said his family has been actively trying to sell the soap factory buildings. Two buildings at the north end of the property have attracted interest from a Canadian company, he said. Those two buildings are called Building 9 and Building 10.

RELATED: Dayton soap factory fire kindles memories of perfume smell

PHOTOS: Dayton neighbors unhappy with Hewitt Factory fire mess

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