Fire destroys Baker City home

By Chris Collins March 20, 2013 10:14 am

By Chris Collins

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Ben Titus had been sleeping for just about an hour Tuesday morning after finishing his night shift at Settler’s Park when he was awakened by his neighbor pounding on his door.

John Jeffries, who lives at 1305 Auburn Ave., just two houses east of Titus’ home at 1325 Auburn Ave., said he saw smoke in the street about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Upon further investigation he saw smoke streaming out from under the cedar shingles of Titus’ home.

Jeffries, who didn’t realize Titus had returned from work, ran to the back door of the burning house to get Titus’ dogs out.

“I told Ben, ‘I didn’t think about you, I thought about your dogs,’ ” Jeffries said.

Titus and his two dogs were able to get out of the burning house without injury.

“John starting yelling at the back door and the dogs started making noise and woke me up,” Titus said.

Jeffries said he called 9-1-1, but the fire already had been reported by a passerby.

The Baker City Fire Department was dispatched at 8:40 a.m. and Assistant Chief Dan Curtis said flames and a plume of black smoke were visible from Main Street as the fire truck headed east on Auburn just three minutes later. 

“The roof north to south was fully involved, we saw it from Main Street when we came around the corner,” Curtis said.

The fire is blamed on heat from the flue of Titus’ wood stove, which apparently ignited the ceiling and burned the attic and roof area before spreading to the rest of the house, he said.

Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative workers responded quickly to cut the power after the electrical line burned and was arcing over the house, he added. 

Thirteen firefighters responded and spent about four hours dousing the blaze and cleaning up afterward. The home and its contents were totally destroyed.

The loss, which Curtis estimated at about $75,000, was covered by insurance, Titus said. He said he would be staying with family members while he decides what to do with the property.

“He’s a heck of a good neighbor,” Jeffries said. “I’d hate to lose him.”

Titus had lived at the residence for the past 13 years. According to his research, the house was built about 1890, although the Assessor’s Office lists it as 1910. 

It was one of four identical homes that were moved to the 1300 block of Auburn between Oak and Ash streets.

The houses were moved to make way for either South Baker School or the Baker Middle School buildings, Titus said. Two of the houses had been replaced earlier, and after Tuesday’s fire, just one of the four remains.

Titus said his house was all wood construction, with no insulation or sheetrock to contain the blaze as it gained steady momentum.

Because the roof was collapsing, Curtis said it was too dangerous to enter the house.

Instead, firefighters sprayed water from the street, and firefighter Travis Fields climbed to the top of the department’s ladder truck to spray water from overhead.

No firefighters were injured in Tuesday’s effort, Curtis said. 

The Fire Department received no other calls during the four-hour period firefighters worked at the scene.

“It was a good thing,” he said. “Everybody was being utilized.”

The 13 firefighters who turned out included four new volunteers, Curtis said.