Fire guts historic residence

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Mike and Cherie Walker were making a new start in an oldhome.

After getting remarried on New Year’s Eve, the Walkers hadbought the South Jackson Street home previously owned by Mrs. andMrs. Cliff Abrams and were making some improvements to the historicresidence.

Around 9:30 Tuesday morning, a fire began in the kitchen and thehome was quickly engulfed in flames. Cherie Walker and someflooring contractors escaped safely but the home was destroyed.

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“This is the first time something like this has happened to me,”Mike Walker said as he surveyed the remains later in the day. “I’mglad my wife was all right.”

Philosophically, Walker recalled some moments in his and hiswife’s life and how they had started with little the first timethey married.

“We’ll do it again,” Walker said as fire officials gatheredtheir gear and friends loaded a few salvageable items from thehome.

Walker said not much was able to be saved.

Some baby pictures of his son Michael Lewis and other familyitems had been left in an old trunk that had yet to be unpacked,Walker said. The exterior of the trunk was burned badly but itscontents were all right.

“I was real tickled about that,” Walker said. “That’s the mostimportant thing.”

Originally from Memphis and in Brookhaven about three years,Walker expressed appreciation for the support the family receivedafter word of the fire spread.

“Everybody’s been real nice,” he said.

The Walkers’ home was one of Brookhaven’s oldest.

A date on its construction was unavailable, but Walker said aproperty deed to grant access via a rear alley had an 1873 date onit. He did not know if the home was on the site when that deed wassigned.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. BrookhavenFire Chief Paul Cartwright said the state fire marshal would bevisiting the scene Wednesday morning.

Tuesday afternoon, Cartwright indicated patches of burned grassin the back yard were somewhat unusual. Also, he said officialswill check the walls and attic to see how the fire could havestarted and spread.

“We want to look at a little bit of everything,” Cartwrightsaid.

In an effort to rule out arson, Cartwright said authorities lookto determine the origin and the cause when investigating fires.While the investigation was not complete, the chief said it appearsarson could be eliminated.

“Right now, it’s pretty safe to say it’s accidental,” saidCartwright Wednesday morning, adding that the scene should soon beturned over to the insurance company for an adjuster’s assessmentof the damages.

Tuesday morning, clouds of black smoke could be seen across townas the fire moved through the home. Capt. Furman Freeman, who wason the first truck to arrive at the scene, said the fire was mostlyin the back, but the smoke made it look otherwise.

“It was plumb black. It looked like the whole house was onfire,” Freeman said.

Much of the home was constructed of heart pine, which allowedthe fire to spread quickly.

“It went in a hurry,” said Lt. Dennis Gibson, who was dousedwith water as he cut holes in the roof to vent the home and to givefirefighters a better idea of the fire’s location inside thestructure.

Cartwright said firefighters’ efforts were hindered by severalfalse ceilings in the home. The chief also mentioned a number ofadditions to the home over the years.

“We had a lot of fire coming off the wings of the house,”Cartwright said.

Cartwright indicated the false ceilings and spaces between wallsallowed the fire to gain momentum until it reached firefighters whowere then able to extinguish the blaze.

“More or less, it burned to us instead of us going to it,”Cartwright said.

Cartwright and Walker commended firefighters on theirefforts.

“They did a super job on it,” Cartwright said. “They workedtheir hearts out.”