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Fire department: House on Riverside is total loss

Electrical short blamed for blaze

POSTED: March 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

A house on Riverside Drive burns late Tuesday afternoon. No one was injured in the blaze that gutted the 100-year-old frame house.

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GAINESVILLE -Harris Blackwood normally writes the news. It is unusual for him to be the news.

Yet minutes after fire engines screamed past The Times' offices on Green Street on Tuesday afternoon, Blackwood, community editor at The Times, rushed to the scene.

Without his reporter's notebook or his digital voice recorder in tow, Blackwood arrived shortly after the fire department at 1152 Riverside Drive - his address.

For an hour, approximately 35 people fought the blaze that resulted in a total loss of what had been the childhood home of Harris Blackwood's wife, Allison Hulsey Blackwood.

Neighborhood residents stood in the streets and in their yards, witnessing the second fire on the street in 10 days. On Feb. 10, a fire caused $1 million in damage to a nearly finished 12,000-square-foot home on the same street. Officials have not yet determined the cause of that fire.

Tuesday's fire, caused by an electrical short, quickly destroyed more than 100 years of history.

Claude Bagwell, who now lives two doors down from the Blackwood's home, recalled the history of the house as flames, appetized by the afternoon wind and pine wood, ate away at its walls.

Bagwell's great-grandfather, Benjamin Hulsey, built the house at 1152 Riverside in 1906. Bagwell lived in the house for nearly 44 years before he built his own Riverside Drive home.

"Once the fire got going, it spread very rapidly," said interim Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada.

And it had. A neighborhood resident reported the fire at 4:39 p.m. When firefighters arrived on the scene only six minutes later, nearly 50 percent of the house was engulfed in flames, said Canada.

No one was home - the Blackwoods had moved out to renovate the house - or injured.

The fire started with an electrical short in the kitchen, spreading up the walls to the second floor and then to the attic of the house, and eventually burning the overhead wire that attached the house to the electrical transformer.

The live power line lay in the driveway as Gainesville firefighters sprayed nearly 25,000 gallons of water on the home.

Someone watched the end of the hot wire until a Georgia Power truck arrived and cut off the electricity flowing through it.

"We were working around (the power line)," said Canada.

"It was closer than we wanted, but that's a danger we have to deal with."

The Riverside Drive fire is the second electrical fire that the Gainesville Fire Department has battled in two days. Monday, an overloaded surge protector caused $40,000 of damage to an apartment on Otila Drive.

Since the Blackwoods were not living in the home, most of their valuables were not inside, and firefighters were able to recover some of the Blackwoods' china and power tools that had been left there.

Officials estimated the damage at about $260,000 and deemed the house a total loss.

Bagwell, who was watching television when he heard fire engines outside, said the loss of the house is more than what can be reclaimed with an insurance check.

And it was difficult for Bagwell to watch the family history go up in flames.

"It's a big loss," he said.


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