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Building fire ruled accidental

| Friday, Aug. 10, 2001

Investigators have concluded that a Wednesday night fire that left 19 people homeless was accidental.

Butler City Fire Department Chief Larry Christy said Thursday the Butler fire marshal and he have determined the fire was not suspicious in nature.

The fire started around 11 p.m. in a second-story maintenance room, but investigators do not know exactly what sparked the blaze at 404 E. Locust St.

Some of the former residents of the wood-frame house converted into an eight-unit apartment building have been given temporary shelter by the Butler County Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Red Cross volunteers were called to the scene to provide extra clothes because many residents were asleep and were scantily clad in summer sleepwear when they escaped from the burning building, said Jody Knights, spokeswoman for the Butler County Chapter of Red Cross said.

Christy said the apartment had working smoke detectors, which helped get everybody out in time.

The searing heat - both from the fire and the hot and humid August night - forced the 50-some firefighters to work in 15-minute shifts to fight the blaze. Normally, firefighters work in 30- to 40-minutes shifts, Christy said.

'It was pretty tough work,' Christy said. 'We had to keep the guys cooled and as safe as possible. We kept rotating firefighters to combat the heat workload.'

Christy said ambulances were at the scene originally for the residents but the personnel stayed to monitor the firefighters. One volunteer firefighter from South Butler Township Volunteer Fireman and Relief Association was treated for heat exhaustion.

The fire spread next door to the Home Improvement Center. Kirby Stevenson, one of the owners of the store, said the store had about $20,000 to $40,000 worth of damage in one part of the store's warehouse and should be restored in about a month.

'Flames were shooting from everywhere,' according to Stevenson, who was at the scene all night. 'It got pretty toasty. But the firefighters did a fine job of preventing the fire from spreading to the other parts of our business.'

No other homes or businesses were damaged in the fire, which was put out around 4 a.m.

Christy estimated damage to the building at $250,000. It has been condemned by the city of Butler.

Ellen James can be reached at ejames@tribweb.com or (724) 779-7123.

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