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Douglas condo fire rekindles

Second fire destroys four units that were damaged the day before

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2005

Firefighters spent Thursday soaking a fire that reignited early in the morning at a Douglas Highway condominium complex.

"We've been there all day, shoveling out the combustible insulation," Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Mohrmann said late Thursday. "We pulled out the rest of the ceiling."

The fire damaged four units Wednesday morning at the 2569 Douglas Highway fourplex and then destroyed them early Thursday, he said.

Flames erupted from the roof of the charred building at about 4:20 a.m. Thursday, Mohrmann said. Within an hour the roofs of the two condominiums that had been farthest from Wednesday's blaze were gone, and the sky showed through the exterior walls under exposed end beams.

The original fire likely had smoldered in the building's cellulose ceiling insulation through Wednesday before igniting again, Mohrmann said. He said burning embers dried the wet insulation and eventually ignited it.

Before leaving the scene on Wednesday, firefighters had ripped out some of the ceilings and inspected the structure visually and with a thermal-imaging camera, he said.

"We must have missed a pocket in there somewhere," Mohrmann said. "It's pretty discouraging."

By 5 a.m. Thursday firefighters had doused the flames, though the building continued to smoke and they hosed it periodically from a truck crane.

All occupants had been evacuated from the previous fire and there were no injuries, Mohrmann said.

Neighbors in another four-unit structure about 15 feet away said a young man in a blue sweatshirt and with dark hair ran through their complex pounding on doors after 4 a.m. Thursday to alert them.

"I wish I knew who he was. I'd like to thank him," said Dori Taylor, who owns the condominium nearest the burned building.

Taylor said she immediately went up the street to stand and watch sparks flying onto her home, knowing that her tank of heating fuel was in the corner nearest the fire.

"All I did was grab my keys and my dog and move my car out of the way," she said.

The dog, a miniature Doberman pinscher named Mocha, sat cradled in Taylor's arms, shivering as they watched from a distance.

Taylor said her friend and neighbor, Robyn Marriott, had left to stay with relatives Wednesday after the first fire struck her home. Now that home is destroyed, Taylor said.

Mohrmann agreed. He could not immediately estimate the damages, but said he would be surprised if any of the four units could be recovered.

For the previous day's fire he had pegged damages at $650,000.

Unlike on Wednesday, when fire crews cut off traffic south of the Douglas Bridge, one lane remained open Thursday morning as residents awoke.

Patricia Everson, house-sitting for her parents three doors down from Taylor, stood vigil with her sister for the second morning in a row. On Wednesday her sister, Catrina Mitchell, had called her at work to alert her to the first fire, and they had gone to the scene to protect their parents' cats in case the fire advanced up the row of condominium buildings.

Thursday morning Everson called Mitchell to come over and do the same.

"I haven't gotten much sleep," Everson said.

• Tony Carroll contributed to this story.



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