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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy photos A private investigator has ruled a fire at 6624 W. Hamilton Road on Nov. 21 as arson. The fire destroyed the 100-year-old home, and the homeowner is offering a reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

  • The yellow house at 6624 W. Hamilton Road was destroyed by fire Nov. 21. A potential $10,000 reward is offered by the home’s owner and the Indiana Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators for information leading an arrest and conviction.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019 1:00 am

Reward offered after arson ruins old home

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

When the family bought the two-story, century-old home on West Hamilton Road, they called it the “yellow house.”

Patti McKee Ottinger, owner, said it was close to “the blue house” that had been in the family for years.

“It was our neighbor's. We didn't want someone coming in and putting old cars in the back yard,” Ottinger said. “Plus it was 100 years old and we didn't want anyone tearing it down.”

Six months into a renovation, Aboite Township firefighters responded to a fire at the yellow house at 6624 W. Hamilton Road about 6 a.m. Nov. 21. The house was destroyed.

Now a private investigator hired by Ottinger's insurance company has ruled the fire was arson.

Earlier, the Allen County FAST team ruled the fire undetermined, Aboite Fire Chief Gale Stelzer said.

“They (the FAST team) do that because they only investigate it so far, but we had our suspicions that it was intentionally set. We let the professionals take over,” Stelzer said Tuesday.

Both Stelzer and Russ Wilson of American Structurepoint in Indianapolis came to the same conclusion that the fire started on the front porch.

Stelzer attributed firefighters' observations to “a fire pattern.”

Wilson said the fire was started “most likely with ordinary combustibles that were placed on the porch, followed by an ignition source, usually a match or cigarette lighter or similar device.”

The “balloon” construction of the house made the fire take off, Wilson said.

“The wood is ready to go. Once a fire propagates (and goes) inside any wall cavities, (it goes) unobstructed up to the attic,” Wilson said. “They don't build them like this anymore.”

When Ottinger got to the fire scene, she worried that maybe paint thinner in the house might have caused the fire or accelerated it, but now she feels as though the arsonist probably chose the house because it was empty.

“From everyone I talked to, (arsonists) pick vacant homes or homes that are under construction.” The home was two weeks away from being occupied by her daughter, she added. The idea that an arsonist could have been watching the blaze from a distance bothers her and looking for a potential arsonist that day was the “farthest thing from my mind,” Ottinger said.

“I didn't look around to see who was there. I definitely wish I would have. A lot of people who burn down houses pick vacant ones. They're ruled suspicious. They're either pursued or not pursued. It if was left up to me, hell yeah, I want something done,” Ottinger said.

She is offering a $5,000 reward coupled with a like amount from the Indiana Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the fire.

Those with information are asked to call 800-382-4628 or message Ottinger at m.me/westhamiltonreward.

The yellow house will most likely not be rebuilt, Ottinger said. Her daughter bought another place because she couldn't wait and “we don't really need another house up there.”

Plus, the fire has made her paranoid. There is still a garage and there are now surveillance cameras and driveway alarms, she said. 

jduffy@jg.net