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Neighbor: Hamilton warehouse fire was 'like a nightmare'

Posted at 5:30 AM, Jul 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-25 19:57:54-04

HAMILTON, Ohio -- When Shawn Huphertz woke Thursday morning, he thought he heard rocks hitting his house.

But there weren’t any rocks, only flames shooting from a nearby abandoned warehouse that burned with a heat so fierce the windows of Huphertz’s home popped as they cracked.

Huphertz was among the handful of residents who firefighters evacuated from their homes as a fire roared in the warehouse on Laurel Avenue.

“Oh my, it was like a nightmare,” Huphertz said. “It was unreal … and then getting my family out of the house. It was like a big ‘ol orange ball of flame. It was terrible.”

The fire didn’t spread, but the heat was so intense it melted the shutters off of Kimberly Huppertz’s home and shriveled the tail lights of her van.

“The whole thing was an inferno … it’s very unbelievable,” Huppertz said. “It scared us all.”

The warehouse caught fire at about 4:45 a.m.; the building was fully engulfed by 5 a.m. No one was injured, and no one was displaced.

Six fire departments stretched across a city block and worked for hours to control the blaze. Monroe and West Chester Fire Departments brought ladder trucks so firefighters could spray the flames from above.

Viewers reported seeing plumes of smoke as far as 15 miles away in Ross, Ohio.

Neighbors Harlee Senters and Theresa Johnson were also forced to evacuate.

“I’ve never seen flames that big, the smoke went so high, the sky was orange ... It was like something out of a horror movie," said Senters. "It was so scary.” 

Johnson said she woke up to a "a bam, bam, bam" at her door.

"I look at my daughter. 'Do we answer the door?' “ she said. 

That's when the man outside spoke up. 

“He’s like, 'Has anyone told you, get out right now? You might want to grab a thing or two, but get out now,'" Johnson said. 

Barbara Brown said the heat was intense.

“When I came out, it was all black and everything was just hot. So hot you could barely move," Brown said. "When I reached for the handle on my car, it was so hot I had to pull my hand away." 

Fire Chief Mark Mercer said it’s difficult to pinpoint where the fire started because the building is so large. Neighbors reported seeing two people leaving the warehouse, Mercer said.

“It’s likely that somebody was in there that shouldn’t have been in there,” Mercer said.

Neighbors said they often saw vagrants coming and going, and some suggested they could have started the fire.

The building was sold two days ago for $200,000, the Journal-News reported.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.