on May 2, 2014 - 1:25 PM
, updated May 2, 2014 at 2:21 PM
Four houses were ruined in a two-alarm fire Friday afternoon in the Woodlawn-Dupont neighborhood. Investigators are trying to locate a disgruntled renter who was evicted from one the houses earlier Friday, authorities said.
“We’ve heard that and, yes, we’re investigating,” Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. said of the former resident. “We’re looking into that as a possibility, but I can’t confirm or deny any of that with the investigation ongoing.”
Three of the four 2½-story, wood-frame houses collapsed, and the other was severely damaged on the first block of Dupont Street at the intersection of Woodlawn Avenue, one block east of Jefferson Avenue.
The heat from the blaze was so intense that it melted plastic and lights on some of the fire trucks closest to the blaze, Whitfield said. He added that if there had been houses across the street, instead of a vacant lot, the intense heat would have destroyed more homes.
“Parts on some of our rigs melted, the plastic encasing the emergency lights, and the lights. We also had hoses melt,” the commissioner said. “The grass in the vacant lot across the street caught on fire. It was extremely hot.”
Whitfield added, “To have this blaze with four houses in the middle of the day is very unusual.”
Only one person was at home in the houses when the blaze was called in at about 1:05 p.m., and she managed to escape, fire officials said. Five people are receiving temporary shelter from the Red Cross.
The houses destroyed were at 82, 84 and 86 Dupont, with the damage to each listed at $80,000 to the structure and $20,000 to the contents. Damage to the remaining structure at 88 Dupont was set at $30,000 to the building and $20,000 to the contents.
Additional fire equipment was called in, but the blaze remained a two-alarmer and was declared under control at 2:19 p.m., though firefighters remained there throughout most of the afternoon.
While no one was hurt, families lost everything.
As streams of water sprayed down on Chris Moore’s house from the ladder trucks, all he could do was watch the clouds of smoke.
“I lost everything,” he said before a friend comforted him with an arm on his shoulders. “I don’t know what to think. The only clothes I got are my work clothes.”
Moore had just finished his shift working on garbage pickup in Depew for Modern Corp. when a friend called to tell him about the fire. He said the house he owned and had lived in for 12 years, with a brick front and curved eaves over the front door, was about 80 years old. It stood at 86 Dupont, one in from the corner at Woodlawn.
The noise of the fire had awakened his sleeping girlfriend, Peaches Gennis, who got out the back door and was helped to safety by bystanders. Whitfield said it was fortunate there were no injuries.
Gennis said she heard something on the side of the house that turned out to be windows breaking. She then went to the front of the house to grab her clothes, but it was ablaze, and she ran out the back door.
“It’s sad. It’s crazy,” she said, thinking of Moore. “I just feel bad that he lost his house.”
Efforts to save 88 Dupont, which at first just had exposure damage, were stifled when the wind shifted and the fire continued to roar.
“Everything worked against us,” the commissioner said.
As a small crowd of neighbors and bystanders watched, about 60 firefighters and 16 trucks worked to put out the fires.
Denise Bell rented the house next to Moore’s at the end of the block and had just started to move out, intending to leave by the middle of the month.
“It’s devastating,” she said, adding that normally she would have been home sleeping but she had left in the morning for an appointment downtown.
“I always thought the houses were too close,” Bell said as she gazed at her house, still standing but with its roof exposed to the beams. “I never thought in a million years that this would happen like this.”
Celeste Pouncey, who lives a block away, saw the smoke as she rode the bus home and called her son in a panic to be sure he was all right. “This is my day off,” she said. “I’m supposed to be relaxing. ... It’s so scary.”