Thick, black smoke could be seen throughout the city as firefighters made their way into the building.
"We suspect arson,” Norwalk Fire Chief John Soisson said. “The Ohio State Fire Marshal was in town and said it was intentionally set. The fire marshal and Norwalk police are working on the investigation.
“There were multiple areas of origin.”
Firefighters from Norwalk, the Huron River Joint Fire District, Milan Township and Huron were on the scene. There were at least 11 trucks at the scene, including three ladder trucks just in case “we had to transition into a defensive attack,” Soisson said.
“The biggest point is we are fortunate to have a working agreement with these four departments. The same four worked the (recent straw) fire at Heyman’s.
“It could have been a lot of worse. The guys did a great job. Brett Beers was in charge when they got there. They knocked down the flames early and it was burning good in that one area. It was difficult because it was squeezed back in one corner. When we got the roof open and the air circulating that helped. It was jet black in there. You are talking over 40,000 square foot.
“Brett and Rick Perry took charge,” Soisson added. “Brian Rospert from Milan was in charge of one side of the building, Rick was in charge of one side and I was in charge of the other. It’s great we can all work well together. That is a product of training and working together.”
The fire was under control by the time Huron arrived on the scene but Soisson said that was still a good thing because “the guys were pretty gassed by then.”
It was hot and not easy for the firefighters.
“The heat is going to (make people drop) when your body gets that stressed,” Soisson said.
One of the firefighters appeared to have problems with the smoke but he did not require any medical help.
The Salvation Army as well as a number of residents brought water, Gatorade and food to the firefighters.
Long-time Norwalk residents remember when Stokely’s was a booming business that produced sauerkraut. One neighbor, who said he has lived all of his life across from the building, located at 71 N. West St., said he remembers when there were houses behind the building where the migrant workers would live.
It wasn’t uncommon at that side of town to smell sauerkraut during the canning season.