A fire killed three people overnight at a house in the 200 block of Walnut Street, said Warren County Coroner Russell Uptegrove.
The home was destroyed by the blaze — with the three bodies still inside — according to Clearcreek Twp. fire department officials.
“The house is fully engulfed in flames,” a female neighbor told a dispatcher in a 2:28 a.m. phone call.
Later in the call, the woman said the fire seemed to be worsening.
“Oh, my gosh!” She said. “It’s glass breaking.”
“The power lines have fallen down on the house,” a male caller told another 911 dispatcher moments later.
Shortly after 10 a.m. today, the state fire marshal’s office announced the fire started in the lower level of the two-story home and spread to the rest of the building.
State officials also said the building had been condemned and was slated for demolition.
Lebanon Fire Chief Michael Hannigan said they can’t tell yet if the bodies are men or women. He was told by neighbors that three men lived in the house.
When fire crews arrived on the scene, the fire was fully involved. Flames were shooting out of the back of the house.
Two bodies were found in the front room and a third body was found in another part of the three-family home built in 1900, said Fire Chief Hannigan.
“It is an old wood frame house and the fire had a substantial headway. When we got here they were probably already deceased,” Hannigan said. “There wasn’t anything we could have done to get them out and save them.”
A power line was burned, but fire officials don’t know if it happened before, during, or after the house fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Lebanon Fire Department and State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Cheryl Rapp, owner of Express Delivery Services on Walnut Street near the home said it has been a rental unit without a permanent resident for several years.
“It looked as if it needed repairs,” Rapp said.
Hannigan confirmed the home’s state of disrepair.
“It’s an older home,” Hannigan said. “Sometimes they are not kept up.”
For example, he said a tarp covered the roof. He did not know for how long or why.
Jerry Crisp, who identified himself as the owner of the home, arrived about 8 a.m. and spoke briefly with firefighters and police before leaving. He said two men lived in the home.
“It’s unbelievable,” Crisp said.
The roof had been leaking and a tarp was placed on it about a month ago, he said. The roof was going to be repaired soon, he said.
He declined to answer further questions about the building’s condition, saying he was too upset.
“Those guys were very good friends of mine,” Crisp said.
The home has a history of exterior code violations, said Lebanon City Manager Pat Clements. He did not know the details, but said the city will begin investigating today.
City and fire officials are not certain of the condition of the interior of the home prior to the blaze, Clements said.
“Our code enforcement is limited to the exterior of the building,” Clements said. “We can’t go in and inspect unless we get the owner’s permission.”
He confirmed Crisp owns the home. Crisp was formerly the Lebanon fire chief from the late 1970s until the early 80s, according to the fire department.
“There was a hole on the right side of the roof,” said neighbor Rodney Hamiel. “They had a ladder going up to it. I didn’t know anyone lived there. The house looked really run down. The outside was kind of scary looking. It needed a lot of TLC.”
“I am surprised that anyone lived there. It was just run down,” said Jim Ruff, who works at nearby Express Delivery. “One of our drivers saw one or two of those guys working on the chimney yesterday. I always saw them going down the outside steps. They have lived there about 2 years.”