Crews clear debris as community mourns loss of downtown landmark

Alton Northup, Staff Reporter

Fire crews remained in downtown Kent Saturday as maintenance crews worked to clear debris following an explosive fire that ravaged the historic mill complex.

Bricks, glass and charred wood scattered North Water Street after an explosion blew out a wall of the former Star of the West Mill Friday morning, leaving one vehicle crushed under debris and shutting down the street. Fire crews from Kent and at least five neighboring departments worked through the evening to smother the heavy flames, which reignited at least once, before extinguishing the fire by Saturday afternoon.

Kent Fire Chief Bill Myers said neighboring businesses were not damaged during the blaze, and the area will reopen to pedestrians as soon as Saturday night, though it could be a week until traffic is allowed through as the investigation into the fire continues.

“We do have investigators looking into things from the State Fire Marshal to ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) as well as the Kent Fire Department,” Myers said.

Investigators from these departments will be on site Monday as the cause of the fire that caused a partial collapse of the unused building remains unknown. Agents from the Environmental Protection Agency were also on the scene Friday to observe the Cuyahoga River and adjacent nature, concurring with the fire department’s handling of the situation, Myers said.

Residents from Kent and the surrounding area gathered to watch the clean up, with many mourning the loss of a central part of Kent’s identity and praising the work of firefighters to prevent further spread of the fire.

“It was a huge, huge fire,” said Joe Ginnane, a Hudson, Ohio, resident. “It’s pretty impressive that the fire department was able to keep it as localized as they did to just this one building.”

Ginnane made the visit to Kent with Diane Giffen, who witnessed the fire on her commute to work, to see the damage.

“It was the biggest fire I’ve ever seen,” Giffen said.

David Wiard, a lifelong Kent resident, stood on the West Main Street Bridge watching crews clear rubble from the mill. He said he came to reminisce about the downtown icon now lost.

“You know, you grew up in this town, and you hear people talking about the 1972 fire that brought the [the Kent Block] down … but that was before my time,” he said. “And then now, we witnessed this one, so it’s just sad.”

Referring to Taco Tantos and Bell Tower Brewing Co. providing free food and drinks to firefighters, Wiard said the biggest impact of the fire was how it brought the community together.

“Everybody rallied together,” he said.

Alton Northup is a staff reporter. Contact him at [email protected].