An early morning fire Tuesday at 184 King St. in the city of Dunkirk forced five people to leave and left the house with considerable damage. Dunkirk firefighters arrived on the scene shortly before 6 a.m. to find visible flames.
"There was fire showing on the south side of the house, at the rear entrance. Within a minute of our first apparatus being on the scene, the fire blew out the front windows on the house," Fire Chief Keith Ahlstrom stated. "We had heavy fire involvement on the first floor that had already spread up into the second floor and was probably already up in the attic by the time we arrived on the scene. I've been told there were five occupants in the house. Smoke detectors alerted one of the people in the upstairs bedroom. She came down and woke the others and they were able to safely exit the house before the fire escalated too much."
Ahlstrom reported his understanding was the occupants walked to an apartment on the Route 60 side of the apartment complex across the street before calling in the fire.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
An early morning fire on Tuesday heavily damaged this house at 184 King St. in the city of Dunkirk. Five residents were forced to flee the building.
"Then there were multiple calls when the fire started coming out the front, other people on King Street also started calling in," he said. "I believe the investigator said there were about eight calls reporting the fire."
Ahlstrom said there were conflicting reports on the number of occupants in the house.
"That affected how we fought the fire because we focused our efforts the first 30 minutes on searching the house and really letting the front of the house burn because we couldn't push the fire into the house when we were looking," he explained. "It made it much more difficult to put the fire out because we had allowed it to have some time, but we had reports that there were up to nine people in the home. After we have the report there are people in it, and even when we have reports from the outside that 'well, we don't think anybody is in there,' we don't think isn't quite good enough for us.
"We had to go in and do two searches to make sure that there was nobody in there, which did contribute probably a little bit to the damage the fire did. That's life safety first, fire second."
A cause has not been made official yet, and fire investigators from the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department may not be able to pinpoint the cause.
"In talking to them I don't think they are going to give a specific cause. It's probably going to be in the undetermined category," Ahlstrom explained. "It started at the top of the ramp where the landing is. Really, there was so much damage to it they're not going to be able to pin it down."
Ahlstrom said the investigators could not determine if the fire started inside or outside the house and normal procedure will have the report available in a few days.
"There was so much damage around that doorway and there was rubbish on both inside the door and outside the door. ... Things burnt away too much of that to really make a specific determination," he stated. "I don't think they think this is suspicious at all. It's most likely something caused by an action somebody living in the apartment had taken. I know there was at least one smoker in the house, possibly two. That's always something that might possibly lead into it, especially when you're talking the garbage bags were there."
Ahlstrom said in addition to the five on-duty personnel, nine off-duty firefighters came in after the department's automatic response activated, along with seven volunteers.
"For us to have seven volunteers show up is a real good turnout with people working and other obligations," the chief said. "On the off-duty side, we normally run between seven and 10 people coming in, which means we ended up with 14 of the 24 members on the scene."
He said there were no other calls during the fire and Alstar WCA Services was standing by with an ambulance on the scene which was also available to respond to EMS calls.
Ahlstrom was asked if he had any advice or warnings for property owners as winter arrives.
"The biggest thing is, and this fire is an example, we had the possibility of a very poor outcome. The smoke detectors in the house were functioning so somebody obviously had been taking care of them and had changed the batteries on them," he replied. "They did wake these people up at a time when everybody is normally sleeping. So, if anything, make sure your smoke detector is working. Test it, make sure that it's working."
According to the city's assessors office, the property is owned by Darrell and Yvonne DeHaven of Westfield.
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