Fire probe ongoing

Officials are still investigating the cause of a Friday night fire at a vacant Gilman Avenue home which has twice previously been the site of suspected arson.

However, the fire has been found to be “suspicious in nature” as there was no electric or gas running to the structure, according to a report from the Marietta Police Department and investigators say they have suspects in connection with the fire.

“We have suspects, but we haven’t arrested anybody for it,” said Sgt. Greg Nohe, a detective with the Marietta Police Department.

The police have arrested a man suspected of squatting in the structure. Randall C. Wilson, 56, was found intoxicated in the area of the fire early Saturday morning, according to a statement of facts.

The home had been boarded up after the last fire on May 21, 2010.

According to the statement of facts, “Randy had pried a piece of plywood from the rear of 1001 Gilman (Ave.) enough so that he was able to enter the structure several times and had even slept there on occasions without permission.”

Wilson was arrested on a fourth-degree misdemeanor criminal trespassing charge and his bond was set at $2,500.

It is not uncommon for homeless people to stay in the home, said neighbor Robin Coughlin, 56.

Coughlin said the squatters have never created problems, but she hopes the home is torn down.

“It’s an eyesore now. Before it was an eyesore, but now it’s really bad,” she said.

Marietta Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp said razing the home is a possibility.

The property is currently owned by Frank B. Stephens, who was the victim of a suspected murder at a nearby Groves Avenue home in April.

No successors have stepped forward to claim the home.

“I do believe if there is a property that has been determined to have no successors, the court can be petitioned by the law director’s office to seek a receiver. That court-appointed individual would access the property to say whether it is salvageable,” said Hupp.

In the case of 1001 Gilman Ave., Hupp said he is confident the home would be deemed not salvageable and therefore the city could raze the property.

It is also possible the house could be subject to foreclosure if it goes more than two years delinquent on taxes, said Washington County Auditor Bill McFarland.

The house is in fact delinquent on taxes, said Washington County Deputy Treasurer Tammy Bates.

“The last payment we received was on Aug. 12, 2011, which was for the 2010 taxes,” she said.

Stephens had not been living in the home prior to his death, according to Coughlin.

The home was listed as vacant when it was set on fire in 2010.

Currently the property is $259.09 behind on taxes, said Bates. The house had a homestead exemption until recently, she said.

If razed, the cost would come from the general fund, said Hupp. However, the cost would be added as a lien on the home’s taxes and would be recouped if the vacant lot was ever sold.