Of the Baker City Herald

A wood stove fire intended to prevent the pipes from freezing in a vacant Baker City home instead ignited the attic Thursday morning, severely damaging the upper portions of the single-story house.

The fire started where the hot stove flue was routed close to bare wood and old straw insulation in the attic, said Capt. James Price of the Baker City Fire Department.

The owners, Donny and Elizabeth Murrell, were not home at the time, Price said.

The couple was in Boise, where Donny Murrell is undergoing surgery, he said.

The 10 paid firefighters and 13 volunteers who responded to the general alarm blaze saved most of the home's contents, Price said.

No one was injured.

The roof was a total loss, and there was andquot;massive structural damageandquot; throughout the attic, he said. He estimated the loss at about $42,000, although the actual amount will depend on whether the owners decide to replace the home or repair the damage.

Price said firefighters had to remove the roof to allow heat to escape and to get to the flames.

He did not know whether the home was insured.

He said the Murrells have been remodeling the home, which he estimated is 70 to 80 years old, and they recently placed it on a new concrete foundation.

Price said the blaze probably had been burning for at least a few hours before a neighbor reported the fire about 9:50 a.m.

But because there were at least three separate roofs on the home, one made of metal sheeting, neither smoke nor flame was visible outside until the attic was engulfed, Price said.

andquot;There was no way to know the fire was there,andquot; he said. andquot;Nobody saw it until it had been burning for quite a while.andquot;

In fact, smoke detectors inside the home did not blare until firefighters cut a hole in the ceiling to reach the attic, he said.

They had to punch several such holes in the home, which has two false ceilings and no access to the attic, Price said.

He said the Murrells had asked a house sitter who was living in a trailer on the property to keep the fire going in the wood stove to prevent pipes from freezing.

Price said it's possible that neither the house sitter nor the Murrells knew the stove flue posed such a serious fire hazard.

He suggests residents who move into a new home make sure flues are installed safely before lighting the first fire in a stove or fireplace.

A child of the Murrells was en route to Baker City Thursday morning to help the couple work on the home even before the fire, said Beverly Higley of the Eastern Oregon chapter of the American Red Cross.