A late Thursday night fire that started in an unoccupied home on West Second Street in Newburg, spread to two other homes, sent Rolla Rural Fire Protection District Chief Bruce Southard to the hospital and drew response from four firefighting agencies, is under investigation.


A late Thursday night fire that started in an unoccupied home on West Second Street in Newburg, spread to two other homes, sent Rolla Rural Fire Protection District Chief Bruce Southard to the hospital and drew response from four firefighting agencies, is under investigation.

The blaze that broke out at 70 West Second St. was called in to Central Communications dispatchers at 10:32 p.m. Thursday, and by 10:45 p.m., Newburg Fire Chief Tommy Brumett said his crew was on the scene.

“We were there in 13 minutes, which I think is pretty good,” Brumett said. “That time of the evening, it sometimes is tough to get people roused up and out the door.”

Twelve minutes after Newburg resident Joe Wann made the initial 911 call and a minute before Newburg’s volunteer firefighters arrived, a call for mutual aid was made to Rolla City Fire &?Rescue.

“The call went out to Rolla when our assistant chief got there and saw what could be three structure fires,” Brumett said. “I think he realized it was more than we could handle and immediately made the call to Rolla for mutual aid,” Brumett said of the decision by his assistant chief and brother, Timothy Brumett. “We knew Rolla was big enough to help us with this.”

Other departments responding, and in consecutive order, include Rolla Rural Fire Department and Doolittle Volunteer Fire Department. At the peak of the fire that totally burned the home at 70 W. Second St. and another home directly west — 90 W. Second St. — 27 firefighters and seven emergency vehicles were on the scene, including an ambulance.

A third home at 60 W. Second St. suffered damage as siding melted from the intense heat and briefly caught fire before Rolla’s Fire & Rescue Truck No. 33 doused the flames to spare it the same fate as the other two.

Southard, the Rolla Rural Fire chief, spent Thursday night in the hospital after falling through the partially burned floor of the unoccupied home at 90 W. Second St.

“They kept me in overnight, but the doctor came in this morning and released me,” Southard said Friday morning.

“We were inside the home, and all of a sudden, I fell through the floor. We checked it out, and it seemed OK. I just fell about 10 feet, but when I landed, I straddled a 2-by-6. My inner thighs are a little sore, and I’m talking a little higher today, but other than that I’m OK. I’m not burned,” Southard mused.

“I had three good people around me who reached down and got me up and out of there,” Southard said.

Southard admitted it was the most serious cause for concern he’s had during his long firefighting career.

“I’ve had minor stuff before, but, no, I’ve never gone through a floor before,” he said.

Despite the large number of firefighters and equipment who responded, there was some criticism about how long it took departments to respond.

“I don’t like to even talk about that,” Brumett said. “I know when people are standing there and a home is burning, seconds and minutes seem much longer than they are. I felt like we were good in our response, but this — three homes — just required more than we are able to handle.”

Ron Smith, the Rolla City Fire & Rescue Training Officer who was at the scene Thursday night, also is the regional mutual-aid coordinator.

“We can’t do this without the help of each other,” Smith said. “Do I think Newburg was overwhelmed? Yes, they were overwhelmed. We (Rolla Fire & Rescue) would have been overwhelmed with three house fires. Just about any department would have been. Mutual aid is so crucial, not only for us, but especially for smaller departments.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation, as Fire Marshal Roger Hayes was called to investigate the blaze that began at 70 West Second St.

“All I can say is, it’s under investigation,” said Hayes. “I can’t tell you when it will be complete, but we are investigating it.”
On Friday, Brumett said the fire may have a suspicious origin because it spread so quickly.

“We can’t say for sure, but witnesses are saying they heard a loud noise, and then the house was engulfed. It’s up to the fire marshal, but it looks like it could have been arson.”

Also Friday, Cory Whittaker, who owned the home at 70 West Second St., was assessing the damage.

“It’s gone, and I don’t have an idea on the cause,” said Whittaker, obviously dejected about the loss. “I’m still waiting on the fire marshal (report).”

Whittaker said he bought the house for his sister-in-law and her children about three years ago, but they moved out “some time ago.” He said it’s been vacant for some time, and it’s been about three months since he’s been inside. Whittaker said that while the home was not occupied, there was still furniture inside, specifically mentioning chairs and an entertainment center.

“Yes, I think the last time I was even inside was about Christmas,” said Whittaker who said the home is insured.

“I do have insurance, barely. I’ve made some improvements, and I may have enough insurance to cover what I still owe on it,” he said.

The home at 90 West Second St. also is believed to be a total loss. That home was under renovation.

“I think it’s a total loss, too,” Brumett said. “I think the owner told me he bought it for about $28,000 and put another $20,000 of remodeling in it. It’s pretty much gone, too.”

On Friday, comments about the fire and damage to the eastern-most house at 60 West Second, the home that caught fire but was extinguished, were sought. However, residents of that home would not answer the front door.