Fireworks blamed for blaze at Jackson firefighter's house

Saturday, June 28, 2003

It only took a 20-cent rocket launched by neighborhood children to destroy the $225,000 home of a Jackson firefighter and his family, fire investigators said.

The Trowbridge family returned from a trip to Kansas City late Thursday night to what was left of their house at 2215 Shannon Court after receiving a phone call to come back home fast.

"What do you do?" John Trowbridge said, shaking his head. "It's not a call you expect."

After learning what had caused the blaze, he was not surprised.

"I am not a fan of bottle rockets and never have been," Trowbridge said. "This kind of supports my argument."

State fire marshal Butch Amann investigated the scene with Jackson firefighters.

"From what we can tell, the rocket landed in some mulch and vegetation at the back of the house," he said. "It spread up the rear and got into the roof through the overhang."

Neighbors saw a rocket fly in the direction of the home, and about five to 15 minutes passed before they noticed any smoke, Amann said.

"By the time they walked up to take a look at it, the fire was already blazing," he said. "It took off fairly quick."

The danger in such rockets lies in their unpredictability, Amann said.

"Once you light one of these things, there's no control of where it goes or lands," he said.

A few teenagers and younger children had been setting off rockets from a street south of the house, Amann said.

The youths came forward and told their parents what happened, Trowbridge said. He had not been told by authorities who the children were and hasn't heard from their families.

Police have not yet detained any juveniles in connection with the fire, Capt. Bob Bonney said.

Tears and disbelief

Trowbridge and his wife, Sheila, stood outside the house Friday afternoon as insurance adjustors reviewed the damage.

"It was a mass exodus of bawling our eyes out and shock and disbelief," Sheila said of receiving the news.

The family of six has little time to grieve, however; there's much to do. They have to write down an inventory of their belongings with an approximate value for each item, she said.

Much of their belongings are unsalvageable. However, the kitchen area was not as affected and its contents will be stored elsewhere. Though the dining area was one of the most damaged areas, she was surprised to find her grandmother's antique hutch was unscathed. By Friday evening, more than two truckloads of boxes and half a dozen barrels filled with belongings were moved to storage.

The city of Jackson allows fireworks to be sold and used from June 20 through July 3 between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., said fire chief Brad Golden. On July 4, the time is extended to midnight. There are seven fireworks vendors currently selling items like the one that burned down the Trowbridge home. He encouraged parents to closely supervise their children when using fireworks.

"It's basically kids that had an accident -- it's a shame," Golden said. "A 20-cent item like this caused major destruction. Parents need to understand what their kids are buying."

Amann agreed more adult supervision is needed and said more laws are not the best answer.

"You can pass all the ordinances you want, but are people going to obey them?" he said. "It becomes a matter of enforcement. There are laws against speeding, but people still do it."

Safety tips are available from most vendors selling the explosive items. At Patriot Fireworks in Jackson, each bag has tips printed on it, including the need for an adult to be present. No one under 10 years old can buy fireworks without an adult, vendor Tammy Silvey said.

For the Trowbridges, the next several days bring more uncertainty. For now, they're staying in a hotel and looking for a place to rent.

"At this point it's a wait-and-see type of game," John Trowbridge said. "We've got to see what the insurance adjustors say."

A special fund was set up at the Cape Regional Credit Union in the family's name for donations.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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