Alton, ILL Blaze rips through house being renovated

Owner was rehabbing interior

February 03. 2014 5:56PM
Linda N. Weller lweller@civitasmedia.com

ALTON — A raging fire Monday morning incinerated a homeowner’s dreams of moving to a house he was rehabbing, and saddened another man who visited that home for decades.“I had finished the attic and I had three-fourths of the upstairs done,” said Jayson Smith, 47, of Godfrey, who bought the frame, two-story house at 1321 Easton Annex about a year ago. “All my tools were in there — and my brand new table saw.”

The destroyed house also contained building materials, including drywall and windows Smith was going to install. There were no injuries.

A detached garage suffered some damage, but firefighters were able to keep the flames from harming the house next door. Smith said he has insurance on the property.

 

Chief Bernie Sebold, of the Alton Fire Department, said firefighters had the blaze under control in an hour, but were on the scene for more than 5.5 hours extinguishing hot spots under the collapsed, shingled roof.

He said the poor, dangerous condition of the house remains would not allow firefighters to get inside the rubble to conduct a cause and origin investigation.

“There is no reason to believe it is suspicious,” Sebold said.

Smith first had been at the house at about 8:30 a.m. for about an hour then left to go to a hardware store, Sebold said.

“Less than 45 minutes later, he came back and found the fire in the area of the furnace,” calling 911 at about 10:18 a.m., Sebold said.

Later Monday, Sebold said he believes the fire was caused by the older, gas furnace malfunctioning that recently had been repaired. “It was overheating,” and likely ignited the nearby “structural members,” Sebold said.

The fire traveled quickly upward through the home because Smith had stripped down the interior to open studs, Sebold said. “It was without drywall and floor coverings. From the floor joists to the rafters, it had a very quick pattern of travel” in the still, unfinished areas.

AFD Capt. Jesse Jemison was off duty, but he came to the fire to snap photos of the fire scene for personal reasons. His aunt, Choice Sheppard, had lived in the house for many years and sold the property to Smith before she moved to Godfrey.

“I practically grew up here,” Jemison said as he prepared to call relatives about the blaze. “It is pretty sad, actually it is very sad.”

Jemison said he would play in the wooded back yard while growing up, and his relatives always had a garden in a flat area down the hill from behind the house.

A neighbor man said he had looked outside to check on the weather and on his mail when he saw Smith and the thick black and gray smoke pouring from the house. He also called 911.

“He works on the house all the time,” the man said of Smith.

The large plume of billowing smoke was visible Downtown, from Alton City Hall and from the Don Twichell Memorial Fire Station No. 1 and beyond.

When firefighters arrived, the house was fully engulfed in flames. Sebold immediately activated the Mutual Aid Box Alarm that summoned East Alton firefighters to the address. The narrow, single-lane blacktop street is hilly, wooded and remote, just east of Alby Street. Alton firefighters ran six connecting 100-foot-long sections of 5-inch diameter supply line up the Easton Annex hill to a hydrant at 13th and Easton streets; used water from a deck gun on top of the pumper with force of 1,000 gallons per minute; and a 2.5-inch hand line hooked to a blitz fire nozzle emitting 500 gallons of water per minute, all to attack the fire from the front of the house.

“The hydrant distance was not an issue, but the issue is this is one of the oldest part of town and water and the water mains are smaller,” Sebold said of the need for multiple water sources for fire suppression.

At rear of the house, Alton firefighters blasted the flames from high above in an aerial tower truck. East Alton firefighters ran a supply line from the west side of Alby Street, forcing temporary closure of Alby between 12th Street and Blair Avenue. A city salt truck parked there awaited word when the crew should treat water-drenched Easton to keep it from icing.

As Smith watched orange and yellow flames jumping out windows and through holes in the roof, he said he had planned to move into the house once he finally renovated the interior.

“I’m here all the time,” he said. “I liked it. It’s quiet down here.”

The white frame and red brick home, with an enclosed porch running across the front, was built in about 1925 and likely added onto later, according to the Alton Township Assessor’s Office.

The office lists living space of 2,019 square feet, 1,346 on the main floor. Assessor’s records say it had a market value at $65,850.

Linda N. Weller may be reached at 618-463-2559 or on Twitter @Linda_Weller.

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