CRAIG BEACH - Fire crews were called Tuesday morning to extinguish a blaze that destroyed two homes. But the closest fire department wasn't dispatched when the fire was reported at the first house.
Fire broke out at one of the side-by-side houses on Afton Avenue just after 10 a.m. and quickly spread to the other, officials reported. Both houses were occupied but no one was home at either one when flames broke out. Initial reports indicated the fire had also spread to a third home.
Milton Township, Palmyra, Lordstown, Newton Township and Jackson Township fire departments responded.
The Craig Beach department is about a half-mile from the homes, but according to an agreement signed in 2007, that department cannot respond unless dispatched by Lake Milton.
Milton Township officials have said they never dispatch Craig Beach because they believe they are not properly certified as a fire department. Craig Beach officials said they do have certification, according to WYTV 33 News.
"The first fire engine took about 25 minutes before anybody showed up," neighborhood resident Lil Steffins told 33 News. "And it was pretty well burning."
"I really can't comment on that," Milton Township Fire Chief Harold Maynard told 33 News. "I'm sure that they've made some statements as to their availability, but I can't really comment on that."
The issue is to be discussed by village and township officials.
The 2007 agreement was struck because financial problems in the village fire department. Milton Township is contracted to handle EMS and fire emergencies in the village.
State records indicate the Craig Beach department is recognized as a nonprofit organization. They lost their fire department identification number after losing its contract with the village.
"Lives are going to be lost," neighborhood resident Mike Purnell said. "Craig Beach Fire Department has got to be allowed to run in Craig Beach. This could have been a real tragedy."