Stubborn fire deemed suspicious

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2005

ST. JOHNS – An early morning fire here this week proved just as hard to extinguish as it was to determine its cause.

The Hertford County Sheriff’s Office has the Monday morning blaze at an unoccupied home, located on NC 561, under investigation.

Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan said the investigation is ongoing. No cause has yet to be determined.

St. Johns volunteer firemen were dispatched to the scene at 2:37 a.m. on Monday. Fire Chief Wesley Liverman said the rear of the single-story, wood-framed residence was fully involved when he arrived at 2:41 a.m.

The residence is owned by the estate of Edna Joyner. It had no electrical service.

&uot;That fact (no electricity) makes this fire suspicious in nature,&uot; Liverman said. &uot;It was for that reason that I turned the investigation over to the Sheriff’s Office.&uot;

Liverman said the age of the home plus the fact that the residence had undergone several stages of remodeling and additions caused problems for the firefighters. He added that dropped ceilings, voids between the walls and a patchwork roof (old wooden shingles covered with plywood and then with modern style shingles) had firefighters on their toes.

&uot;Fire was everywhere,&uot; he said, &uot;in the floor, the ceiling and the walls. It took a lot of time and effort to find where the fire was hiding.&uot;

The job of finding the stubborn hot spots became a bit easier when the Union Fire Department was summoned for assistance. Union just received a thermal imaging camera, one specifically designed to help firefighters find troublesome spots that are not visible to the human eye.

&uot;That camera saved us a lot of work,&uot; Liverman noted.

Union responded with a half-dozen firemen and two units. Mutual aid was also received from Ahoskie Rural (two units, 10 men) and Millennium (one unit, 10 firefighters).

&uot;It took every bit of that team effort to get this fire under control,&uot; Liverman said. &uot;We really appreciate their assistance.&uot;

The St. Johns Chief said the added manpower from the other departments was a Godsend.

&uot;The problems we encountered in this fire placed the firemen under a lot of physical stress,&uot; he said. &uot;By having that many firefighters on the scene, we were able to relieve some of that stress.&uot;

No one was injured, despite a pair of close calls. Liverman said a few firefighters were in one room when the ceiling collapsed. Others fell through the floor.

&uot;Thank goodness we got everyone out safe and sound and in one piece,&uot; Liverman concluded.

The last unit left the scene at 7:53 a.m., a shade over five hours after the fire was reported.