NORTH TONAWANDA – Neighbors are on edge after four fires – including three at one house – this weekend in one block of Fifth Avenue in North Tonawanda.
Arson is suspected.
The first fire took place at 5:30 a.m. Friday at 7 Fifth Ave., and the ensuing three happened two doors down at 19 Fifth – one at 3:30 p.m. Friday, the second at 12:30 a.m. Saturday and the third at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“Everybody has been out watching,” said Ann Swann-Lempke, who lives across the street from 19 Fifth. “It is nerve-wracking.”
An 82-year-old woman lives at 19 Fifth. Swann-Lempke said the woman is “the nicest lady.” Another neighbor said the occupant “doesn’t bother anyone.”
The final fire destroyed much of her home. The entire back of the residence is charred and boarded up, and the sides of the house are peeling off. There are three piles of burnt furniture – some chairs, other pieces indistinguishable – outside the house. The elderly woman has temporarily moved out.
A neighbor said the woman was not home when at least two of the fires occurred, but could not say whether she was home when the other blaze broke out.
Fire Department Chief John C. Lapham did not have further information available Sunday.
Lapham said two North Tonawanda police offers and two firemen have been investigating the fires, and the city will issue a press release this afternoon after Lapham meets with the joint task force.
North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt also did not have additional information to release but said the city is wary and “three fires at one location in a matter of 72 hours is certainly worthy of investigation.”
Swann-Lempke said tenants were recently evicted from 7 Fifth, so when the first fire happened there, many assumed it was the work of the former tenants; but the arsons at 19 Fifth put a puzzling twist on the situation.