A fire that started in a vehicle parked in the driveway consumed the garage and the attic of the house at 1 Walter Place in Palm Coast this morning, rendering the house uninhabitable for now.
The fire was put out by 10:15, though smoke continued to rise, on and off, from a hole firefighters had dug in the roof as they explored how far the fire had traveled. No one was injured and neighboring houses were never in danger, as the fire had been caught relatively fast by a neighbor even as residents of the house had been unaware.
The 2,600 square-foot house with a screen-enclosed pool, built in 2005, sits at the corner of Walter Place and Walker Drive. The fire broke out around 9:30 a.m. in the front of a black GMC pick-up truck that had been parked close to the door of the garage, next to a similar, white GMC truck. It is unclear as yet why the fire broke out.
“I was sitting and watching TV on the backside of my house and I saw what looked like fog,” said Hal Brown, the homeowner and neighbor across the street at 29 Walker Drive (his garage fronts onto Walter Place). “So I says, fog moving in? So I came and opened my garage, and as soon as I opened my garage I saw what it was. It was that black truck there, the front of it was engulfed and the house had not caught fire yet. So I turned around to my garage phone, called 911 and reported it and said that the truck was on fire and soon the house will be on fire. Shortly after that the house became engulfed before the fire department got here.” The garage side was engulfed.
“The flames never actually came out of the roof but they were all the way up into the attic from the soffit,” Brown said. He knew his neighbors. They’re long-time residents in a property homesteaded and owned by Elizabeth and Byron Trask.
“There were three people in there, the owner of that black truck, the owner of the white truck, which is the owner of the house,” Brown said, and another woman, whose sedan was parked along the swale on Walter Place. Brown continued: “I went to the front door, hammered on the door, nobody answered, so I pushed the door handle and it was unlocked, so I opened the door and started screaming his name, and finally they all came out of–I don’t know all of them, I know he and his girlfriend came out of the back bedroom. I says, you’ve got to get out, do not open the garage, your house is on fire. They were completely unaware. ”
Others called 911 as well, but Brown appears to have been the first one to report it. As he spoke, two firefighters were at the edge of the ladder of Ladder 25, sawing a hole in the roof, which seeped more smoke. “It’s still on fire, look,” he said.
Battalion Chief Mark Valentik was in command at the scene. He explained: ‘We had some dark smoke coming out of the soffit that we didn’t like. Since the fire traveled so far into the attic we were afraid it extended, so we cut the hole there to access versus trying to get a firefighter halfway through the house in the smoke and heat. It’s a good way to get more heat out of the house faster and also see how far the extension was.”
By then the fire appeared entirely out. “We believe it started with the truck and extended to the house, we’re bringing out an investigator to give it a better look, just to make sure,” Valentik said, referring to a state investigator. “Not that it’s suspicious, but you know we sometimes do that, just to get another expert opinion on it.”
He said the fire got up into the attic and traveled halfway the length of the house. “There’s going to be water damage, there was a lot of charring to the structure up there, rafters and such,” he said, and the house would not be habitable. Lt. Jason Wagner estimated the damage of the house at 50 percent. The house has a market value of $167,500, according to the Flagler County Property Appraiser.
No one was injured. No pets were involved. The Palm Coast Fire Department’s Capt. Gary Potter was second in command. Responding to the fire were Palm Coast’s Engines 22, 23 and 21 and Ladder 25 and Flagler County Fire Rescue 21, an ambulance that stood by in case it was needed. The indispensable Palm Coast Fire Police, of course, regulated traffic and blocked off the segments of road where firefighters were working.