Blaze destroys Salt Lake house

Ammunition in basement adds to fast-moving inferno

By Pat Reavy
Deseret Morning News
A fast-moving fire destroyed the home of an elderly couple on Salt Lake City's east bench Tuesday afternoon.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning NewsForced to stand back, firefighters watch as an elderly couple's house burns on the east bench. Fire crews were called to 2200 East block of Laird Way at 3:46 p.m. on a report of several explosions, followed by heavy smoke and flames in the garage, said Salt Lake City Fire Battalion Chief Devin Nalder.
The elderly homeowners, a man and his wife, were in the main part of the house when the fire started. A daughter and three grandchildren who also lived in the house were not home at the time.
Fire officials did not immediately release the names of the home's occupants. But according to an Internet address listing, the home is owned by a David H. Horne.
Neighbor Lisa Hanson said the homeowners, who got out safely, later said the initial explosion "rocked the house."
"The wife called to the husband, 'Are you OK?' " she said.
"I thought it was a bomb," said Jed Doane, who was outside his house next door when the fire started. "I heard three consecutive explosions in about five seconds."
Doane said he ran next door to help the couple get out. The homeowners' dog also was able to escape, but some pet birds reportedly died in the fire.
The initial cause of the fire was still under investigation Tuesday. Doane said he heard it had something to do with a furnace, although those reports were unconfirmed Tuesday.
Crews initially tried to fight the fire from inside the house, Nalder said. Within 10 minutes, however, the fire in the old wood structure quickly grew into an out-of-control inferno with flames shooting 30 feet from the roof.
"It really went fast," Nalder said.
Complicating matters more for firefighters were boxes of ammunition stored in the basement that kept exploding, he said.

At that point, firefighters went into a defensive mode, exiting the house and concentrating more on preventing the fire from spreading to surrounding houses.
Neighbors and other residents, some of whom didn't even know the family, watched in horror, some crying, as the house the family reportedly had lived in since 1949 burned.
"My heart goes out to the family. They're great neighbors," said Bill Harned.
"It's devastating to see that," concurred LaVone Gamonal. "It went really fast."
Doane said thousands of family pictures, wedding pictures and other irreplaceable items were lost in the fire.
"They're wonderful people. They don't deserve something like this to happen," he said.
More than 40 firefighters helped battle the large blaze. Salt Lake City police moved onlookers who were standing across the street even farther away from the house because of a report of diesel fuel cells buried in the backyard.
Surrounding roads were closed and Foothill Boulevard was backed up for at least an hour as fire hoses were dragged up the neighborhood streets.