MANSFIELD -- A 3-year-old girl was killed early Wednesday morning in a South Foster Street house fire in what police and officials believe was the result of aggravated arson in a nearby vacant house.
Police tape cordoned off the scene at 208 and 212 S. Foster St. late Wednesday morning, the charred remains of two structures behind it.
Mansfield Police Capt. Shari Robertson said authorities responded to the scene at 2:23 a.m. at the request of the Mansfield Fire Department. She said the blaze began at 212 S. Foster St., a vacant house, and spread to 208 S. Foster St., an occupied residence.
"The residents at 208 South Foster Street were awakened by a neighbor who had seen the flames and pounded on their door to wake them," Robertson said. "Unfortunately, a 3-year-old female child who was staying at the residence in an upstairs bedroom was unable to be rescued due to the smoke and flames and perished in the fire.
"A pregnant female at that residence was transported to a local hospital for treatment after experiencing possible labor pains. No other injuries were reported and the other seven occupants, three adults and four juveniles, got out safely," Robertson said.
She noted it appears the fire was intentionally set at the vacant residence and then spread over to 208 S. Foster St.
"It has been reported by witnesses that a group of juveniles, possibly teenagers, were in and/or around the vacant residence prior to the fire. At this time the State of Ohio Fire Marshal, Mansfield Fire Department, Richland County Coroner’s Office and Mansfield Police are actively investigating the crime scene," she said.
"Investigators were still on scene sifting through the debris. Although, it is early in the investigation, it does not appear that the residence had fire alarms. The Mansfield safety forces cannot stress enough the importance of fire alarms inside residence. If you currently have fire alarms, please take a moment and make sure they are operational and replace the batteries on a regular basis," Robertson said.
A neighbor standing on the sidewalk this morning described the child as "a beautiful little girl."
The woman said she believed the fire began around 2:30 a.m. She said the child didn't live at the residence, but was there with a babysitter overnight while the girl's parents worked.
The “Ohio Blue Ribbon Arson Committee” is offering a reward, at its discretion, of up to $5,000 to person(s) furnishing information leading to the identification of person(s) responsible for this fire.
Police are asking the community that anyone with information on this fire to please call Major Crimes Sergeant Matt Loughman at 419-755-9761 or Detective Rick Clapp at 419-755-9470.