Sen. Carnahan begins cleanup at Rolla home following fire

Monday, September 10, 2001

ROLLA, Mo. -- Sen. Jean Carnahan and her children spent Sunday salvaging belongings from amid the damp, sooty debris of a fire that destroyed the attic and second floor of their rural Rolla home.

Authorities believe lightning sparked the fire that broke out about 9 p.m. Saturday and eventually caused the roof to cave in. Mrs. Carnahan, who was home alone, was uninjured, but officials estimated the damage at around $100,000.

Missouri's junior senator and her family declined Sunday to speak with reporters, only allowing photographers brief access to the home. The family could be seen going through the home, removing boxes and other items, and speaking to neighbors and members of Mrs. Carnahan's staff.

"I am thankful for family and neighbors, and for people from all over the state who have expressed concern and offered their assistance," Mrs. Carnahan said in a statement released by her office.

Worked with firefighters

Mrs. Carnahan's children -- Robin, Tom and state Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis -- arrived Sunday morning to help their mother clean up. They worked with firefighters to pick out what items should be moved from the home's upper level to a garage area for safekeeping, said Capt. Geoff Heavin of the Rolla Rural Fire Protection Association.

Tony Wyche, Mrs. Carnahan's spokesman in Washington, said the Democratic senator had not decided when she would return to the capital.

Mrs. Carnahan and her husband, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, moved into the home sometime in the 1950s, Wyche said. Mel Carnahan and another of the couple's sons, Roger Carnahan, died last October in a plane crash while the governor was campaigning for the Senate seat now held by his widow.

The white, tree-shaded house sits on a large tract of land accessed by a gravel road and overlooks rolling hills and farm pasture. The family has a small herd of cattle and a few draft horses and grows hay on the land, Wyche said.

On the second floor were bedrooms and an office used by Mrs. Carnahan as a study. The walls of the second floor were lined with hundred of photos that chronicled one of the state's most prominent political families.

Mel Carnahan's late father, A.S.J. Carnahan, was a member of Congress in the 1950s. Before becoming governor in 1993, Mel Carnahan served as judge in Rolla, state treasurer and lieutenant governor.

Officials said the fire consumed about 90 percent of the home's attic and second floor, but Wyche said the family was able to recover many boxes of photos and some other items.

"They're basically going through the house and trying to recover what they can get out," Wyche said. "They'll be doing that most of the day."

Mrs. Carnahan told her staff that around 9 p.m. Saturday night, she heard a loud noise and "smelled something that didn't smell right, and looked around, but didn't see anything," said Roy Temple, Mrs. Carnahan's chief of staff.

She called her brother-in-law, Bob Carnahan, who lives next door, and he came over and saw the flames. They then called the fire department.

A firefighter was checked for heat exhaustion at the scene, but no one was injured. Mrs. Carnahan spent the night at Bob Carnahan's home.

"While I'm saddened to lose so many family treasures, I'm grateful that no one was injured," Mrs. Carnahan said in the statement. She also thanked the emergency workers who "worked so hard to minimize the damage from the fire."

Heavin said it took his volunteer department about 10 minutes to get the blaze under control. The department got help from several surrounding agencies, he said, and seven pumper trucks hauled water from Rolla.

Firefighters stayed at the scene through most of the night to make sure the fire was extinguished.

Heavin said he saw frequent bursts of lightning in the area Saturday night. Crews from his department responded to two other small lightning fires in Phelps County before they turned to trying to save the Carnahan home.

Heavin said it appears the lightning struck Carnahan's home above the master bedroom. No further investigation is planned, he said.

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