CHICAGO (STMW) — Arson has been ruled as the cause of a blaze that destroyed the vacant Plaza Hotel in Gary, Ind., the Post-Tribune is reporting.

City officials are still waiting for all utilities to be cut off at the site, at 32 W. 8th St., before they move forward with an emergency demolition.

Fire Department Investigator Steve Johnson said Monday the Dec. 4 fire started on the west side of the structure, although he said there were no working utilities in it. Two area fire departments joined Gary in putting out the fire.

Johnson said officials don’t know what the fire’s accelerant was because it’s too dangerous to examine the crumbling building.

“The structure being the way it was with the collapsed roof, it’s just too hazardous,” Johnson said.

A church that served the homeless occupied the building’s east side even though the city’s Building Department had slapped a “do not occupy” order on the entire building, built in 1926, for numerous code violations.

That church, God’s House of Prayer Church was also gutted by the fire. A representative from the church could not be reached for comment.

Johnson said a church leader told him the church had electricity but no natural gas service.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Monday that fires in vacant buildings are one of the hazards her administration deals with regularly. “There’s a state of peril in the community. With so many abandoned buildings, there are situations like this that do exist.”

Freeman-Wilson said the Building Department does the best job it can given the high number of abandoned structures in the city, estimated earlier at about 10,000.

Joretha Rhines, who’s listed on county property records as the building’s owner along with her husband, William Rhines, said she deeded the property to the church. She said she and her husband operated it as a boarding house from 1998 to 2004.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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