Fire claims house, pets
A mid-evening fire Monday gutted and destroyed the two-story home of Greg Shay, 1018 Eighth Street. Despite initial fears that his 21-year-old son, Joey, was in the house, the only loss of life was two cats.
Allen Craig, chief of the Baldwin City Fire Department, said the cause of the fire was some sort of lamp with a wick that fell over. How that happened is unclear, but it was ruled accidental after a visit Tuesday morning from the State Fire Marshal.
"It was an accidental fire, but we still haven't figured out how it happened," said Craig.
Craig listed the loss as $55,000 to the house and $20,000 to its contents. "It's totaled," he said.
The fire was reported at 8:14 p.m. and brought a parade of emergency vehicles. Seven firetrucks from Baldwin City, Palmyra and Willow Springs townships, three Kansas Highway Patrol, two Baldwin City Police and one Douglas County Sheriff patrol cars answered the call.
What they found upon arrival were flames and lots of smoke.
"It was fully involved downstairs and flames were spitting out the front door," Craig said. "There was lots of smoke ... and flames."
He also said there were tense moments before it was confirmed that no one was inside the burning house.
"The report came in as a structure fire and the update said someone may be inside," he said. "The son was missing and Greg was pretty excited about it. He turned around and there he was."
A passerby discovered the fire and thought he heard a noise inside.
"He broke out the south window and tried to get in, but cut his arm," Craig said of the good samaritan. It was later determined that probably what he heard was one of the cats.
There were four cats in the house. Two were found dead, one is "at large" (it was found Tuesday morning and took off in a hurry) and the whereabouts of the third is unknown, he said.
Firefighters battled the blaze for several hours and were on the scene until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Several times it appeared they had the fire under control, only to see it come back strong.
"It's those false walls," Craig said. "It just kept flaring up. We couldn't get water to it."
There was plenty of water. The fire department used its new five-inch line for the first time. It provides as much water as three two-inch lines, he said.
"That's the first time we had to lay that line on an actual fire and it did work," said Craig. "It paid off."
Also used was the big "Quint" truck with its ladder that enabled firemen to spray water directly on top of the roof.
The fire drew quite a crowd, especially during the first hour. Several of the neighbors chipped in to help the firemen out by providing water during the battle. Craig thanked them and others for their efforts.
"I want to thank Palmyra, Willow Springs, the Highway Patrolmen, city police and sheriff's department and all the neighbors for all they did," he said.