Arson

A sign offering a reward for information about arson was posted at 212 S. Foster St. on Wednesday morning.

MANSFIELD -- Two individuals are in custody this morning related to the fatal suspected arson fire on Wednesday, according to Mansfield police.

"Additional information will be released later this morning or early afternoon," police Capt. Shari Robertson said. 

A 3-year-old girl was killed early Wednesday morning in a South Foster Street house fire in what police and officials believe was the result of aggravated arson in a nearby vacant house.

Police tape cordoned off the scene at 208 and 212 S. Foster St. late Wednesday morning, the charred remains of two structures behind it.

Mansfield police Capt. Shari Robertson said authorities responded to the scene at 2:23 a.m. at the request of the Mansfield Fire Department. She said the blaze began at 212 S. Foster St., a vacant house, and spread to 208 S. Foster St., an occupied residence.

"The residents at 208 South Foster Street were awakened by a neighbor who had seen the flames and pounded on their door to wake them," Robertson said. "Unfortunately, a 3-year-old female child who was staying at the residence in an upstairs bedroom was unable to be rescued due to the smoke and flames and perished in the fire.

"A pregnant female at that residence was transported to a local hospital for treatment after experiencing possible labor pains. No other injuries were reported and the other seven occupants, three adults and four juveniles, got out safely," Robertson said.

Fire Chief Steven Strickling said Wednesday afternoon that firefighters were called at 2:04 a.m.

He said bystanders told firefighters a juvenile was possibly trapped inside the residence at 208 S. Foster St.

"Search and rescue efforts were attempted, but firefighters were driven out of the house due to extensive fire conditions and adverse wind conditions," Strickling said.

The MFD was assisted by police, the Madison Township Fire Department, the Richland County Sheriff's Department and the Richland County Coroner's Office, the chief said.

There was an initial issue with the fire hydrant on South Foster Street, but firefighters found a quick solution, according to Safety-Service Director Lori Cope.

"The first hydrant that we attempted to use would not operate completely, but we quickly obtained a secondary water supply that was adequate to contain the fire," she said. "We are in the process of working with the water department to assess issues with the hydrant."

The focus now is on catching the individual(s) who started the fire, Cope said.

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“The mayor has instructed both police and fire to use whatever resources necessary to find the suspects and bring them to justice," she said Wednesday afternoon.

Robertson said it appears the fire was intentionally set at the vacant residence and then spread over to 208 S. Foster St.

"It has been reported by witnesses that a group of juveniles, possibly teenagers, were in and/or around the vacant residence prior to the fire. At this time the State of Ohio Fire Marshal, Mansfield Fire Department, Richland County Coroner’s Office and Mansfield Police are actively investigating the crime scene," she said.

"Investigators were still on scene sifting through the debris. Although, it is early in the investigation, it does not appear that the residence had fire alarms. The Mansfield safety forces cannot stress enough the importance of fire alarms inside residence. If you currently have fire alarms, please take a moment and make sure they are operational and replace the batteries on a regular basis," Robertson said.

A neighbor standing on the sidewalk this morning described the child as "a beautiful little girl."

The woman said she believed the fire began around 2:30 a.m. She said the child didn't live at the residence, but was there with a babysitter overnight while the girl's parents worked.

The “Ohio Blue Ribbon Arson Committee” is offering a reward, at its discretion, of up to $5,000 to person(s) furnishing information leading to the identification of person(s) responsible for this fire.

Police are asking the community that anyone with information on this fire to please call Major Crimes Sergeant Matt Loughman at 419-755-9761 or Detective Rick Clapp at 419-755-9470.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"