Fire destroys antebellum house

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 19, 2001

Six fire units and a general alarm recall responded to Church Street early Saturday morning, answering calls to an old antebellum house fully-involved on arrival.

Reports filed with the Greenville Fire Department indicated that at approximately 1 a.m., they were dispatched to a reported structure fire at the residence of Floyd and Donnie Seals at 309 Church St.

Police officers responding ahead of the fire units radioed that the house was actively in flames.

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"I saw the blaze from East Commerce Street while I was still responding," said one Greenville police officer.

"When our first responding unit was still enroute, they could see the blaze in the sky," said Fire Chief Mike Phillips. "Following information from E-911 that police officers reported the house to be fully-involved, Lt. Presley called for a general alarm."

The term, according to Phillips, calls all off-duty full -time firefighters as well as both squads of volunteers into action

virtually the entire department.

It was not until the department's ladder truck was placed in front of the house, and men began pumping greater than 800 gallons of water per minute though the ladder's piped nozzle, that the fire seemed to back down.

"Hand-held hose lines were not effective on the structure, which according to firefighters, was made from heartwood, or fat-lighter' wood.

The eight-room home, built some 80 years ago, was occupied by two descendants of the Seals family, according to neighbors, who reportedly inherited the home from the estate of their grandmother.

"What made this fire so difficult to extinguish was the fact that it was an old balloon construction' type house," said Phillips. "Many years before air conditioners were even invented, homes were kept cool in the summer by the fact that the walls were hollow, from the floor to the attic

air could circulate from under the house, through the walls, and into the attic."

Phillips said while the design was good for cooling, it also fed the fire.

"Without fire-stops', or horizontal beams between the studs in the walls, a fire was able to readily obtain all the oxygen it needed to grow

it will make a fire burn like a blow torch."

Firefighters at the scene also had difficulty in gaining entry to the building.

"The rear of the building was totally aflame when we got to it," Phillips said. "But we had to cut through the front of the house to enterit had been boarded up for many years, according to residents in the neighborhood, so there was only one way in."

One of the residents, Floyd Seals, said he was in the kitchen when the fire began.

"I don't know what caused it," Seals said. "I was in the kitchen getting something to eat and I heard what sounded like an explosion, and then, it was on fire."

Fire reports indicated an approximate value of more than $100,000 for the structure and more than $25,000 in contents.

"There was old antique furniture in each of the eight rooms," one firefighter said. "The rooms were full."

Chief Phillips said the State Fire Marshall's Office was called to aid in determining the cause of the fire, which remains under investigation.