Blaze that killed Mich. firefighter ruled arson

Brian Woehlke, 29, died May 8 when a roof collapsed on him during a fire at a strip mall in Michigan

Detroit Free Press

WESTLAND, Mich. — The death of a Wayne-Westland firefighter earlier this year has been classified a homicide, state police said Tuesday.

Brian Woehlke, 29, died May 8 when a roof collapsed on him during a fire at a strip mall on Wayne Road. Wayne-Westland fire officials determined this month that the fire was a case of arson.

The blaze destroyed the Electric Stick, a billiards hall, and Marvaso's Italian Grille.

Assistant Chief/Fire Marshal John Adams wouldn’t say Tuesday night how the fire started or speculate on a motive, citing the ongoing police investigation. He did say two specially trained dogs brought to the scene found no evidence of accelerants.

George Marvaso, the owner of the businesses, said if it was arson, “then that’s really important to us to find out why that fire started, (and) who took our 20 years away, put 100 employees in the street.”

Woehlke’s colleagues were notified about the arson ruling Tuesday afternoon, said Mitch Tokarski, president of Western Wayne Firefighters Association Local 1279.

“It’s a difficult time in the department,” he said. “Hopefully we’re able to find who started the fire.”

Marvaso said he and his family have struggled financially since the fire.

“It was a million and a half dollar loss, and all we had was insurance for the contents,” Marvaso said, “which was half a million, tables and chairs and such. We had tripled our gross in the last three years, and we were just getting out of debt.”

He also insisted that his family had nothing to do with the blaze.

“For people who think we did this for financial gain, that’s crazy,” he said.

Marvaso said fire officials and his insurance company had previously said the fire’s cause was undetermined. But that designation is used while firefighters are still actively working to determine the cause, Adams said.

Westland police turned the law enforcement side of the investigation over to the Michigan State Police in August, Adams said.

Woehlke, a married father from Dearborn, died of soot and smoke inhalation and thermal burns. He had only been on the job about 10 months.

Authorities are asking anyone who has information about the fire to contact the State Police’s special investigation section at 877-616-4677.

Copyright 2013 Detroit Free Press
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