Arson suspected in vacant Portage building fire

October 6, 2018

A sign posted Friday in front of 2646 New Pinery Road reiterates what the building’s owner, Richard Lynn, has suspected from the beginning: that someone deliberately set fire to the vacant structure Thursday night.

The Portage Fire Department got the call at about 7 p.m. Thursday, with reports of visible flames.

Traffic on the busy New Pinery Road was routed away from the scene, some of it via Collins Street onto a torn-up section of Airport Road.

Portage Fire Chief Clayton Simonson said a Portage police officer noticed a “small fire” inside the building, and did not enter before summoning the fire department.

The fire appears to be arson, Simonson said, because “there was a pile of papers burning in the center of the room, and that didn’t start all by itself.”

Police and firefighters found no one at the scene Thursday, Simonson said. Fire Inspector Craig Ratz will take a closer look at the scene before turning the investigation over to the Portage Police Department.

At the fire scene Thursday, Lynn said he learned of the fire when the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office notified him.

The building has been used as a warehouse for the last several years, Lynn said. However, most of its contents had been removed in recent days, leaving only a container of documents that were due to be shredded.

It was those documents that Lynn said were set on fire.

A prospective tenant toured the building recently, according to Lynn, and he said somebody apparently left the door unlocked.

He said he thinks juveniles got inside and ignited a fire, not necessarily intending for the fire to get out of hand.

At about 7:30 p.m., Portage firefighters were venting smoke out of the building. The odor of smoke could be detected several blocks away.

After the building was ventilated, Lynn walked inside. He said he didn’t think the 4,000-square-foot building was seriously damaged, and he didn’t see any remnants of materials that might have been used to ignite the fire, such as matches.

Columbia County property records list Richard Lynn’s wife, Jenny Yibin Lynn of Middleton, as the property’s purchaser on Feb. 27, 2012. The records show George and Glenda Johnson sold the structure for $300,000.

According to Richard Lynn, the property is zoned for neighborhood business, and the business that most recently occupied it was Johnson Mechanical Systems.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the fire department at 608-742-2172.

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