Two juveniles face arson charges in connection with a warehouse fire that burned for several hours late Sunday and early Monday.
Arson Investigator Norm Loudermilk of the Terre Haute Fire Department said one of the juveniles admitted to using a lighter to set a cardboard box and a large plastic curtain on fire.
"Within minutes of the first units arriving, we were able to locate a suspect and get a confession," Loudermilk said of one juvenile. The second juvenile was arrested about 10 a.m. Monday.
The two juveniles admitted to riding their bicycles to the warehouse complex at 1702 Maple Ave. and to playing inside a building there when the fire was started. The fire was reported about 7:21 p.m. Sunday.
"They would ride bikes in the building and mess around," Loudermilk said of the juvenile's statements to investigators. The remote area often attracts youths on bicycles and others who camp in the wooded surroundings, he added.
Loudermilk said a homeless person was also known to stay in one part of the building, and the juveniles said they talked to that person at some point prior to the fire.
The homeless person is believed to have left the building after the fire started, Loudermilk said. However, as a precaution, cadaver dogs will be brought in to search the scene.
The warehouse complex was the site of another arson fire in April. Loudermilk said that case remains unsolved, and the youths involved in Sunday's fire have denied responsibility for the April fire.
The warehouses share common walls and were constructed around 1910, Loudermilk said. They were owned at one time by Wabash Valley Fiber Box and held cardboard material that was shipped all over the country via the railroad running adjacent to the property.
In recent years, the warehouses had been used to store a variety of items. Some doors on the building were not secured and it was easy for anyone to gain access to the interior, he said.
Anyone on the property without permission is trespassing, Loudermilk said.
The remains of the buildings are a public safety hazard, he said. The fire weakened the remaining exterior walls. An excavator from McGuire Excavating was brought in to knock down walls so firefighters could access the interior of the building.
"These walls weigh several thousand pounds," Loudermilk said. "If one of them fell on someone, it would be fatal. They would be crushed."
Interior supports of large wooden beams lay smoldering Monday afternoon among wreckage of metal and roofing material.
"This is a lot of money," Loudermilk said of the damage caused by the fire. "It is very frustrating to me as an arson investigator to have this occur in my city."
Terre Haute firefighters were assisted by Otter Creek Township firefighters.
"This type of fire, ongoing operation for hours and hours and hours, costs the city money," Loudermilk said of the resources needed including equipment, overtime and hired services, such as the excavator.
The juveniles, ages 13 and 14, were taken to the Vigo County Juvenile Justice Center.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.