From the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Laura Plantation damaged by fire
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
By Matt Brown
River Parishes bureau
Laura Plantation in Vacherie was badly damaged by fire late Monday night.
The roof of the plantation's main building was destroyed, but the walls were still standing and the floors were largely intact. Several of the furnishings were salvaged and outside the plantation late Monday night.
An internal alarm at the plantation went off at 8:40 p.m., but a site manager who checked it did not notice anything awry, said St. James Parish Willy Martin. An hour later the alarm went off again, and the person who returned found the building on fire.
Firefighters got the call about 9:40 p.m. and the fire was under control by about 11:30 p.m., though firefighters were still fighting pockets of flames in the roofline at midnight.
The fire was believed to have started in the back of the plantation, where there was a kitchen and an office.
Norman Marmillion, who bought and largely restored the house 11 years ago, arrived to find it engulfed in flames.
"It was my worst nightmare," he said, holding a sword from the Battle of New Orleans that was salvaged from the house. "It was all in flames, the roof was gone. All I could see was red glare and smoke. We got there and we thought we lost the place."
Marmillion said he plans to tour the house today to find out what he will do next.
The blaze could be seen for miles around. The 200-year-old West Indies plantation, on Louisiana 18, or River Road, was also known as the Creole plantation, and popular for its focus on slavery and story-telling.
Firefighters got the call while they were in a meeting Monday night, said Myrna Schexnayder, wife of North Vacherie Volunteer Fire Company Assistant Chief Irving Schexnayder.
North and South Vacherie, as well as the Edgard fire department, responded to the call.
Her husband, a son and two grandsons left to go to the fire, she said. The house was not occupied, she said.
There was no lack of water, she said. Hydrants were available in the area, Schexnayder said.
The plantation, built in 1805, sits on 13 acres of the famed River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The main house is surrounded by fields of sugar cane and there are 11 National Historic Register structures on the site, including overseers' cottages, carriage houses, barns and a water well. The site is also home to the Maison de Reprise, built in 1829 as a retirement home for the women owners of Laura Plantation.
"It's a terrible loss for the parish. It was a very nice tourist attraction," Schexnayder said. The owners "had fixed it up and had added more artifacts and were adding more."
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