Fire strikes 3 houses, damages 2 others

District rescue chief injured in car wreck while responding to blaze.

By BRIDGET MURPHY, The Times-Union

A three-alarm fire ripped through a row of homes in Springfield on Thursday, destroying three houses and damaging two others in a spectacular blaze firefighters battled for more than a hour before squelching most of it.

One firefighter collapsed from exhaustion and a fire district rescue chief was in a car wreck that left him and another motorist with serious injuries as he responded to the fire at Liberty and First streets.

About 100 firefighters fought the fire, with the first companies arriving shortly after midnight to find two two-story houses engulfed by flames. After first trying an interior attack, Battalion Chief Dale Margadonna pulled companies out of the buildings, fearing they would be caught in a collapse.

For nearly the next four hours, companies surrounded and drenched the houses with water.

Liberty Street resident Tom Myers, 48, said he was sleeping inside one of the five houses when he awoke to the smell of smoke and what he thought was the sound of rain falling on his roof.

When he looked outside he saw it actually was chunks of wood falling off the vacant house next door, where the second-story porch was fully ablaze. Myers ran next door and warned neighbors to get out.

They grabbed their pets, put on bathrobes and slippers and ran across the street, where they stayed watching firefighters work for the next few hours.

"Hey guys, thank you," Toni McKendree, 35, called out to firefighters, standing nearby in a robe and cradling her puppy in a blanket, about two hours after rushing out of her house. "Good job."

The fire consumed two houses, both of them vacant. It seriously damaged another and left the houses on either end of the row -- one scheduled to be completely renovated by next month -- with smoke and water damage.

Fire officials estimated damage between $150,000 and $200,000.

Authorities said Rescue Chief Ray Wade, who crashed at North Main and Sixth streets, suffered a back injury but was released from Shands Jacksonville hospital after undergoing tests.

Arson investigators began sifting through the ruins of the burned row as firefighters wrapped up the Liberty Street suppression operation about 4 a.m. Thursday. A preliminary probe suggested vagrants might have been inside one of the vacant houses, but a cause wasn't clear later Thursday, fire spokeswoman Bennie Seth said., (904) 359-4161