Only piles of charred rubble remain of an unoccupied house that burned in Bethel this weekend. The cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation.
At 11 p.m. on Friday, firefighters responded to a report of smoke coming from a wooden house on Osage Avenue, located across from the Teen Center.
When the fire crew arrived, flames covered the downstairs and were moving to the second story. Soon, the fire engulfed the entire structure, shooting from windows and doors, sending bright orange embers flying through the night.
Water truck drivers arrived at the scene and helped the fire department attach hoses to hydrants in City Subdivision.
It was a long night of nonstop work; the crew returned to the fire station at six the next morning.
Later that day, on Saturday, the city knocked down what remained of the scorched building.
“One of the walls fell as soon as it was touched, so it was very unstable, very unsafe," said Fire Chief Bill Howell.
The house had been unoccupied and stood in disrepair. Fires are always dangerous for firefighters, and Howell says that abandoned buildings make that danger more unpredictable.
“You don’t know what the internal condition of the building is.”
Firefighters might be facing holes in the floor and ceilings, or walls that are partially constructed.
“Fuel systems or other heating appliances may or may not be fully functional, or might have safety features that are only partially installed,” added Howell.
And the biggest question: is anyone inside? Crews searched the first floor of the building when they arrived, but the stairs were too unstable to search the second story.
If someone was caught in the building, Howell says that with the intensity of the blaze, only bone fragments would be left. So far, none have been found.
Abandoned houses can draw squatters or people seeking protection from the elements. Sometimes those people start fires in wood stoves or other heating sources. Unmaintained systems increase the risk of the fire spreading.
Howell recommends that property owners cover windows and doors of unused buildings with plywood and have someone regularly checking the structure.