'Right before Christmas'

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Their names, Luttrell and Luttrull, are as similar as their stories. Two families are now homeless for the holidays after their houses were destroyed in separate fires Tuesday night in neighboring towns.

At one home, Thanksgiving decorations were still on the mantle and relatives were in town visiting. At the other residence, everyone was looking forward to a new start after a move to Jackson this year.

That night, a teary-eyed Penny Luttrell put a hand to her face and repeated to herself, "Right before Christmas."

She stood at the corner of Ohio and Kate streets in Jackson with her husband, Randy, and their children, Stephen, Michael and Suzanna, watching firefighters battle a blaze overtaking the rental home at 304 N. Ohio St. they had lived in since June. The Luttrells sought the help of the Red Cross for shelter and clothing.

Later in the evening, the large rural Fruitland home that Omer and Brinda Luttrull built together 17 years ago at 194 Chippewa Lane caught fire and burned into the dawn hours. Their son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Cindy Luttrull, and grandchildren, Kevin and Kaitlin, had been living in an apartment in the basement.

No one was home when the fire began. Tim, Cindy and their children were at church. Omer was in Paducah, Ky., and Brinda was at the Cape Girardeau home of the Luttrulls' daughter, Angela Morris. With her were Brinda's mother from California -- who had come to stay with the Luttrulls for the holidays -- and an uncle and aunt from Arkansas.

The Arkansas relatives' car was burned, along with a motor home the Luttrull family used on vacations, Morris said.

No one has any idea what caused the fire, Brinda, 57, said.

"There had been a burning smell in the house since Thanksgiving, but we couldn't figure out where it was coming from," she said with red eyes.

Omer and Brinda own a construction company and a retail craft business. The fire destroyed many tools and retail stock that were stored in the garage.

Standing over the smoldering ashes on Wednesday afternoon of a home she designed with her husband, the memories were overwhelming for Brinda.

"We worked long and hard on it," she said. "He had a heart attack in September, so we were going to retire in January before this fire took place, and we were going to hibernate in front of the fireplace together for a week or so."

But the family is already talking about rebuilding, 59-year-old Omer said.

"I guess we don't have a choice, really," he said. "Yeah, we were happy here."

The family is currently staying at the Drury Inn at the Fruitland exit off Interstate 55, but Omer and Brinda will soon move into a smaller house they own on their property near the destroyed home. They expect to recover financially through insurance.

An account was set up for donations for Tim and Cindy Luttrull at Union Planter's Bank, Morris said. They did not have renter's insurance and plan to stay with Cindy's nearby relatives.

Fruitland assistant fire chief Dean Riley said firefighters arrived at the home at 7:45 p.m., and stayed nearly 12 hours, assisted by the East County Fire Protection District, he said. The damage was too great to determine a cause.

"Everything had fallen into the basement and was burning up," Riley said. "You had to continually put water on it to put it out. We had to let it burn on its own and we stayed to protect the surrounding area."

Riley said he didn't know if a dirty flue caused the fire, but he cautioned residents to use care.

Jackson fire Capt. Steve Grant said the Ohio Street incident was being ruled as an accidental fire, adding that the structure had older wiring that could be suspect.

The 911 call came before 5:30 p.m., and Jackson firefighters remained until 7:30 p.m., he said. Cape Girardeau responders provided mutual aid.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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