CHILLICOTHE — Fire destroyed a city-owned, boarded-up apartment building on Friday at 721 N. 3rd St. in Chillicothe. It is being investigated as an arson fire.

Police and Chillicothe Fire Chief Mike Denzer arrived at the fire minutes after it was called in and discovered an intense fire already burning inside the structure. 

"When I arrived, there was gray smoke coming from all four corners of the building," Denzer said at the scene Friday.

The fire began around 11 a.m. and burned for hours, with firefighters dousing it with water from outside the building. Firefighters were ordered to stay out of the intensely burning structure.

"Safety of our firefighters was our first concern," Denzer said. "It was a defensive operation, and no firefighter was going inside until it was safe."

Because the fire started in the boarded-up building with no utilities, it would be investigated as an arson, Denzer said. The wood-frame building — two stories tall on one side, one story on the other — had been empty for at least four years.

Columns of thick smoke rose from the building, and bright orange flames could be seen shooting out the roof and inside the structure. The smoke could be seen rising from the center of Chillicothe from several miles outside of the city.

Chillicothe and Community fire departments were assisted by firefighters from Akron-Princeville, Henry, Lacon-Sparland and Dunlap fire departments. Chillicothe remained on the scene at 3 p.m. after the others had returned to their stations.

It was not clear Friday why the city owned the property, or what its plans were for it if it hadn't burned.

The late morning fire on a weather-perfect summer day drew large crowds of amateur photographers who snapped pictures of the dramatic flames and heavy smoke with their smartphones.

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at

Early pictures from house fire at 721 N Third Street, Chillicothe,

— Upper Images (@UpperImages)July 14, 2017