State fire marshal investigates Rax fire as arson

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 Messenger photo by Earl Ballenger

Emergency crews were dispatched to a fire in the vacant Rax Restaurant building on West High Street in London in the early morning hours of Sept. 1.

The State Fire Marshal’s office is conducting an arson investigation following a fire that destroyed the vacant Rax Restaurant building at 110 W. High St. in London.

According to Lt. James Penix Jr. of the London Fire Department, emergency responders were dispatched at 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 1. Madison County EMS and eight other fire departments responded with mutual aid: Catawba/Pleasant Township, Central Townships, Jefferson Township, Mechanicsburg, Norwich Township, Pleasant Township, Pleasant Valley and Tri-County.

“It had 30- to 50-foot flames already through the roof at the back left corner of the structure when we got there,” Penix said. “It had such a headstart on us, it took a lot of water to put it out.”

He added that they fought the blaze defensively from the outside because it was too dangerous to send personnel into the building. The fire was out by about 6:45 a.m.

“It was a total loss,” Penix said.

Because an arson investigation is under way, the State Fire Marshal’s Office will not comment on details, said spokesman Matt Mullins.

The Blue Ribbon Arson Committee offers rewards for information that aids investigations. Anyone with information about the Sept. 1 fire in London can call 1-800-589-2728.

London City Councilman Richard Min-ner and local attorney Richard Flax have owned the structure at 110 W. High St. since 2004. It stopped operating as a Rax Restaurant approximately two years ago and has been vacant since then.

Minner said vandals broke windows on the back of the building this summer. To deter further damage, Minner said the en-tire back of the building was boarded over.

Despite the vandalism, Minner said he is surprised the building was targeted for arson.

“I have no reason to think that anyone would set the place on fire, no reason at all,” Minner said.

He had hoped the building would open again as a restaurant. One possibility last year came from a group that wanted to open a sports bar, but “they just couldn’t get their figures together,” Minner said.

A roast beef restaurant out of Dayton also expressed interest in the building, as did a chef and his brother, he added. Finances kept any of the deals from coming through, Minner said.

“It costs so much money to update things, and right now the restaurant business is just getting killed,” he added. “Now that the Dixie (Drive-In) is gone, there’s nothing on the west side of London.”

Minner said he and Flax had recently decided to redesign the roof, gut the building, and renovate the interior.

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