Two Altoona fires during the last week were intentionally set, the city's fire inspector said Thursday.
Sunday night's blaze that destroyed a building on the 1200 block of 18th Street housing three vehicles, including a 1978 GMC motor home, and a fire early Wednesday that destroyed 870 31st St. were the work of arsonists, Fire Inspector Mike Tofano said.
At this time, investigators have no reason to believe the fires are connected, Tofano said.
Lee Papadeas, owner of the 18th Street building, said he was in Ocean City, Md., last weekend when the fire broke out and said he suspects vandals are responsible.
"I think kids got in and didn't have anything better to do," Papadeas, 60, said.
The fire on 18th Street, reported about 10:45 p.m. Sunday, started in the RV that was stored there with two other classic cars, a 1982 Rolls Royce and a 1955 Ford Thunderbird, Tofano said. Because the fire left the building unstable, Tofano said it wasn't possible to get inside the RV to look for what sparked the blaze.
"The entire structure is resting on that RV, so it made it too dangerous to get inside," Tofano explained Thursday.
Tofano said a wooden door showed signs of forced entry, and Altoona police were investigating who is to blame.
Altoona Detective Cpl. Matthew Depaolis is assigned to the case and could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Tofano said the 18th Street and the 31st Street fires didn't appear connected to each other or to earlier arson cases in Altoona this year.
It is the second time in less than two years that a building owned by Papadeas that contained classic cars has burned, and the Altoona businessman said he's aware people have insinuated, particularly in online comments to news articles, that he set his building on fire.
"So, now I'm an arsonist?" Papadeas scoffed, adding he was surprised by the rumors. "I take it personally. I live better than that."
As upsetting as it is that people who don't know him would pass judgment without knowing the facts, Papadeas said he is trying not to let it get to him since he knows he didn't set the fire.
"You can't take it to heart," Papadeas said.
Papadeas explained he never gained financially from the first fire, one on the night of Dec. 15, 2010, at his garage on Rose Alley between 16th and 17th streets.
A 1976 Rolls Royce, a 1955 Thunderbird and a 1951 Jaguar were destroyed after Papadeas accidentally set the building on fire while attempting to thaw out a frozen pipe connected to a boiler used to heat the garage and an adjacent apartment, he said.
"This fire's the same way," Papadeas said. "I'm not going to make out [financially]."
The northbound lane on 18th Street between 12th and 13th avenue remains closed because of the Papadeas building's instability and is due to come down today, Tofano said.
G&R Excavating & Demolition owner Glenn Ray said his company will move equipment in this morning to pull out any remaining cars and begin the tricky process of tearing down the three-story block building.
"It's very unsafe and a very touchy old building," Ray said, adding the RV will remain in the building when it's brought down.
Ray said he hopes workers can get the site to the point where traffic can reopen by 4 p.m. today but said those plans were tentative.
Tofano said the 31st Street blaze was set between a space between The TV Shop and Adams Electric's storage area, although exactly what was used to light the fire can't be determined due to the extensive damage. The building is a total loss, fire officials said.