Probe continues into cause of noxious fire

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

An investigation into the source of noxious fumes that overcame firefighters at a structure blaze in February continues.

Investigators Alan Hoos and Ralph Gordon, with the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, visited the scene last Thursday and gathered samples to send to the state crime lab for analysis.

The fire occurred Feb. 17, at an occupied rental house owned by the Phillips family, located on County Road 929, near Lake Return in south Carroll County.

Members of the South Carroll County Fire Department responded to the blaze. Four firefighters were treated at the scene by ambulance personnel for respiratory problems believed to be caused by noxious fumes. Several others went to the hospital emergency room afterward for treatment.

On Thursday, Gordon and Hoos suited up in protective gear to sift through the rubble.

Afterward, Gordon reported that nothing significant or unusual was found.

"Neither of us saw anything unusual," he said. "We took samples to send to the crime lab to see if there were any accelerants. It's been difficult to determine the cause of the fire. Nothing unusual jumped out."

Gordon said results from the crime lab are expected in about a month.

The structure that burned was a 100-year-old farm house on property homesteaded and occupied by members of the Phillips family until 1955.

Dixie (Phillips) Spicer said the family has the original deed to the property that was signed by Roosevelt.

Her grandparents, James Alexander and Simmie (Sweden) Phillips, were the first occupants of the home, which started out as a three room structure and was later enlarged.

"I can remember staying there," Spicer said. "It was heated by the fireplace and cookstove. There was no electric until 1947."

She said the fireplace was constructed of hand-hewn rock and mud mortar.

"It had a well that you drew by hand up until 10 years ago when water came in from the top of the mountain. The first barn is still there and the cellar."

She said the first telephone in the home was connected to Jess Bell's grocery store down the road. If there was an emergency, you rang Jess Bell, she said, and he would relay the information to Alpena, via his extended line.

Her grandfather died 60 years ago, she said, and her grandmother remained in the home.

"Two of my sisters and my grandmother stayed there until about 1955," she remembered. "It was a rental after that, just to keep it occupied and secure. We had good renters for a long time."

Spicer said she and other family members have a personal attachment to the property and hope to clean up the burned homesite once the investigation is complete.

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