Six departments battle fire

Friday, August 11, 2006
Six fire departments were called to this house in Scott City on Thursday. The house was built in 1910. (Diane L. Wilson)

First there was the heat. Then came the storm.

Neither one helped firefighters from six local departments battle a massive blaze that engulfed the second story of a 94-year-old farmhouse Thursday just outside the city limits of Scott City. Only a dog was at home at the time of the fire.

At 11:05 a.m., firefighters responded to a report of a fire and explosion. They didn't clear the scene until well into the afternoon.

"This is probably the worst we've had in a while as far as fires in our jurisdiction," said Scott City fire chief Jay Cassout.

The fire occurred at 1723 Hilleman St., just yards outside the city limits. The second floor of the old wood-frame home was engulfed in flame before firefighters even arrived.

Cassout said the old, dry wood was "like a tinderbox."

Firefighters initially went to work on the second floor but were driven back to the first floor by the heat.

Smoke was visible from Interstate 55.

Mark McClellan, who lived at the home with his family, was the first to arrive at the fire. He was tipped off that his home was in flames by contractors he knew who were working in the area.

"I just thought about the dog," McClellan said. "I knew the kids weren't home."

He was able to rescue the dog. The only injury was sustained by a firefighter who received minor burns to the ears.

"There's nothing you can do," he said as he watched firefighters put out the blaze. "I'm just blessed, since both the kids were gone."

The fire started in McClellan's son's room, where it launched a window air conditioner out of the second floor, which led to the report of an explosion. His daughter's room was right below, he said.

Because of the day's heat, Cassout called in five extra departments for help -- Cape Girardeau, the NBC Fire Protection District, Chaffee, Oran and Gordonville.

Firefighters had to work in turns. Paramedics with the North Scott County Ambulance District checked their vital signs after they worked on the fire.

At first, only Chaffee, Cape Girardeau and NBC were called in. Later in the fight Cassout requested assistance from the others because the firefighters were becoming exhausted from the heat.

Around the time the extra help arrived, a severe thunderstorm ripped through the area, causing more problems. Strong winds threatened to bring parts of the house down, including the free-standing chimney.

For their own safety firefighters had to stop, Cassout said.

Shortly after noon the fire was mostly under control and crews worked to eliminate hot spots within the walls. When the storm hit shortly afterward, stopping work for around 30 minutes, the flames within the walls started to spread. The last firetruck didn't leave the scene until 3:10 p.m.

Since the fire isn't suspicious, Cassout said he will not call in a fire marshal to investigate. His department won't investigate because the fire was outside the city limits.

Determining the cause will be up to McClellan's insurance company.

The house sat on a high hill with a clear view of the surrounding area. McClellan would like to rebuild on the property.

Whether he'll be able to is also up to the insurance company, he said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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