Vicious fire rips apart historic houses
A vicious fire destroyed an Old Town house and damaged at least two neighboring houses Friday morning, one of the most devastating fires in Park City’s renowned historic district in more than a decade.
Nobody was reported injured, but three men renting one of the houses rushed outside to escape the blaze. Firefighters arrived at about 6:20 a.m. and doused the flames from several locations on and around the 700 block of Norfolk Avenue. They continued to hose down the houses through the morning, and investigators spent much of the day at the scene.
Most of the visible flames were extinguished by 9:30 a.m., but the houses continued to smolder until late in the day.
Bob Evans, a Park City Fire District captain, said flames engulfed the house at 711 Norfolk Ave. before firefighters arrived. The fire gutted the house and charred the backyard. A road, acting as a fire barrier, stopped the flames from reaching the brush beyond the backyard, Evans said.
The fire spread to the attic of a house next door, 713 Norfolk Ave., collapsing the roof. Evans said four firefighters entered 713 Norfolk Ave., saw the collapsed roof and deemed it too dangerous to stay inside. The two houses are about six feet from each other. Evans was unsure if anybody was inside 713 Norfolk Ave. when it caught fire.
The 713 Norfolk Ave. house is a treasured structure from Park City’s historic silver-mining era. It is widely known as the Angel House, and it once operated as an inn.
A third house, next door on the other side, suffered damage on at least the exterior. The address was not immediately known.
The fire sent smoke billowing above the western reaches of Old Town, and a haze enveloped the neighborhood. The smoke plume was visible from numerous vantages in Old Town, and along Park City’s S.R. 224 and S.R. 248 entryways.
"You don’t really get a chance to think about anything. Instinct takes over. You get out of there," said John DeFilippo, who was inside 711 Norfolk Ave.
DeFilippo, 28, and three roommates rent the house, he said. He moved in on Wednesday. Two of the roommates – Doug Locklair, 27, and John Connell, 25 — were also inside and got out quickly. The three renters left the house within two minutes of realizing there was a fire, DeFilippo said. Five minutes after they got outside, flames ripped through the house, he said.
"There wasn’t any smoke or anything. There was nothing. It went from nothing to fully engulfed," he said.
One of his roommates woke up DeFilippo to alert him. DeFilippo left clothes and $2,000 worth of ski equipment and camping gear inside. DeFilippo is from Alabama and moved to Park City in November, working at Deer Valley Resort and then Hotel Park City.
"I didn’t lose anything that wasn’t irreplaceable – got to wing it, figure out what’s going on," he said.
The Salt Lake City chapter of the American Red Cross met with the roommates on Friday, providing them with money for meals and clothes. One needed assistance buying new eyeglasses. David Neale, a Red Cross official, said the relief organization will assist them with first month’s rent and a security deposit when they find new lodging.
Investigators by midday had not determined what caused the fire. Ron Ivie, City Hall’s chief building official and the city’s fire marshal, was at the scene but not immediately available for comment. The investigators interviewed the people inside.
Police officers cordoned off the area around the houses with tape and directed traffic and pedestrians away from the firefighters. Neighbors watched from behind the tape.
City Hall officials and firefighters have long dreaded a terrible fire in Old Town, a densely packed neighborhood with houses situated a few feet from each other. Many of the houses predate by decades modern building codes that require fire-sprinkler systems. Forested and brush-filled mountainsides abut Old Town on three sides.
Two neighbors said they heard loud crashing or popping sounds just before the flames erupted. Jennifer Allen, who lives at 812 Norfolk Ave., said they sounded like gunshots or electric circuits cracking.
"I heard the pops, ran out, and the entire house was already engulfed," Allen said, adding, "They were so loud, so out of the ordinary. I was literally thinking gunshots."
Jim Hewitson, who lives at 803 Norfolk Ave., called the sounds "big, loud crashes." They woke him up.
"I was about to come out and complain, so early in the morning, and saw this house engulfed with flames," he said.
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Park City officials are preparing to take what is considered to be an important step in protecting the Treasure land from wildfires. City Hall in early June requested proposals from firms interested in the work.