Elusive May 19 fire left Seaview senior in dire straits

CHRIS NIELSEN photo<br> Marilyn Sholin is seen here working on a crossword puzzle in her home which was damaged by fire on May 19, pondering what she can do to make the needed repairs to her house become a reality.

SEAVIEW - A Seaview senior is struggling both financially and emotionally to put the pieces back together after an elusive May 19 fire left the upper floor of her Willows Road home heavily damaged.

The fire was one which took Pacific County Fire District No. 1 Seaview Station's volunteer firefighters three attempts to fully extinguish.

The first 911 call: 10:37 a.m.  It all began at approximately 10:37 the morning of Sunday, May 19, when a passerby saw flames coming from Marilyn Sholin's home, located at 2308 Willows Road, which is near Thousand Trails - NACO West. Sholin, who is 73-years-old, was in the house watching her two young grandchildren, Amber and Maia.

"I heard pounding on the door and there was a lady who said, 'You've got flames coming out of your chimney.' Then, I ran outside and saw it and I was so flabbergasted - so I called the fire department."

Minutes later, members of the fire district's all-volunteer Seaview Station arrived.

The firefighters went inside Sholin's home and pulled the logs out of her wood-burning stove and closed off all the vents to the stove in order to "damp" the stove off from any air sources. Sholin also recalls a firefighter climbing up on a ladder to gain access to the upper portion of the house.

"They said the fire was in the chimney and that it should go out by itself," said Sholin. "At that point I wasn't really worried."

Firefighter Doug Knutzen, who was the incident commander during the call to Sholin's house, said, "It is not unusual for a chimney fire to flare up and then go out after all the creosote is burned up."

For this reason, he said it is normal procedure to close off the chimney from incoming air and remove whatever is burning in a fireplace or wood stove in the event of a chimney fire.

"Then we inspected the wall and chimney to see if there was any heat," said Knutzen. "We felt these with our hands and also used an infrared thermometer. We determined there was no heat getting into the walls."

At that point Sholin was told by Knutzen "Don't ever use that chimney again" in its present condition.

Knutzen said it was during the first call to the house that he noticed that the red brick exterior chimney which Sholin's wood stove was attached to was in "extremely poor condition."

"The mortar was falling out from in between the bricks," he said.

It was also during the first call to the house that Knutzen said he had a conversation with Sholin about tearing the chimney down.

"Marilyn and I looked at the chimney and she didn't want it to fall on the neighbor's property and we were also worried about power lines," said Knutzen. "We normally don't tear down a chimney."

By the time the firefighters left, according to Sholin, it was about 11:30 a.m. She said that there were quite a few firefighters who came out to extinguish the chimney fire, so many she said she couldn't even count them all.

Sholin, a long-time resident who has lived in the house for 42 years, said of the volunteer firefighters, "I knew most of them."

Second 911 call: 12:43 p.m.  All seemed well until 12:43 p.m. when Sholin said she heard a roaring noise and went outside where she saw flames coming out of the base of the chimney through a clean-out hole. The fire department was called out again and arrived a few minutes later.

According to Knutzen, upon arrival he checked the structure and found that there was a fire and a "hotspot" inside the chimney approximately 10 feet above the base.

"It looked like enough air was getting to the chimney around loose mortar so that the fire continued to burn after we left the first time," said Knutzen. "We also found a hole in the base of the chimney where ash was removed and a brick not in place. We put the brick back in place and tried to plug the hole."

It was also during the second call that firefighters checked the interior for heat and smoke and also sent a crew to the top of the house and put a spray nozzle inside the chimney to try to cool it down. Knutzen said spraying the chimney wasn't cooling it down enough so firefighters grabbed a line off a brush truck and flooded the chimney with water and foam.

"They poured gallons and gallons and gallons of water down the chimney and also foam," said Sholin, who was standing outside her home watching these events transpire.

According to Knutzen, after the chimney was flooded he stood outside the house with a heat gun and watched the temperature of the chimney come down to less than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

He said this is not normal procedure - to put so much water in a clay brick chimney - because it can cause a lot of damage to the brick and mortar, but since the fire was not going out he went ahead and used the water and foam liberally.

"At that point we saw water leaking through the chimney's bricks where mortar was loose or missing," said Knutzen. This reaffirmed what I observed on the first call: That the chimney needed to come down eventually and never be used again. I told Marilyn this."

Knutzen said before firefighters left after their second call to the house that he didn't observe any heat in the walls or chimney.

"They did everything," said Sholin. "Then it looked like the fire was out."

Third 911 call: 3:15 p.m.  But the story wasn't destined to have a happy ending, because at approximately 3:15 p.m. the same day, Sholin went outside to look at the chimney and saw smoke curling up under the eaves of the house. She said she was pretty sure the wall of the upper portion of the house was on fire, so she called 9-1-1.

In a tape the Chinook Observer obtained from the Pacific County Communications Office in South Bend, she can be heard stating to a dispatcher in an excited, yet shaky voice, "Yeah, this is Marilyn Sholin again ... I think the house is on fire now ... Yeah, it's on fire - the house ... by the chimney. Tell them to come quick."

According to Sholin, the firefighters arrived almost immediately, threw the hoses out and headed upstairs to battle the fire. Sholin said in the meantime, the fire flashed - turning into flames from the smoke - all across the top floor of the house, which is one big room used as a spare bedroom and for storage.

Sholin said she was outside when she saw the flash and knew the firemen were inside the upper floor of the house. She said she was surprised that none of them were hurt and could understand why firefighters wear protective clothing.

Knutzen disputed the fact that the fire flashed and gave the following description of what he found when he and firefighters arrived on the third call:

"When we arrived we saw light smoke coming from second story. We put our breathing apparatuses on and found that the second story was on fire. It was burning pretty good. It looks like what happened is that there was enough radiant heat from the chimney that it caught the wall on fire. Or, it cold have been due to a hole in the chimney."

It was during the third call that firefighters knocked the chimney down, in addition to spraying "a lot of water and foam," said Sholin, who added that firefighters were there for at least an hour-and-a-half.

According to Knutzen, it is not normal procedure for fighters to knock down a chimney, but added that he wishes this would have been done on the first call.

Knutzen said there was a high voltage line next to the chimney and that P.U.D. would have had to have been called out.

"It was one of those deals where we don't normally tear down a chimney, she didn't want us to tear it down, and we didn't want to contact P.U.D.," said Knutzen. "If we would have known that the fire would have spread to the house we would have knocked the chimney down on the first call."

Sholin still living in house  Unfortunately, due to lack of homeowners insurance, as well as Sholin's limited income and resources, she is forced to live in the house until she can figure out a way to get it repaired.

Sholin said that after the fire was finally out, "Some of the firefighters said they were really sorry the fire got out of hand. Of course, they knew I didn't have any homeowners insurance and this made them feel twice as bad."

The upstairs of the house is a total loss, including furniture, antiques, family heirlooms, photos and keepsakes that were stored there. At this point, Sholin she said she can hardly make herself "go up there" and look at the destruction.

The fire caused extensive damage to the upper floor's walls and ceiling. A portion of the roof also was heavily damaged where firefighters had to chop out a portion. According to Sholin, Knutzen and his son came to her house this week and made repairs to the roof.

Also, the upper floor's windows were all ruined during the fire. At this time the majority of them are boarded up.

The clay brick chimney, which appears to be the culprit in the fire, was also a total loss and will have to be rebuilt if Sholin wants to be able to use her wood stove again.

Water sprayed on the ceiling and walls of the upper floor, as well as that which was sprayed on the chimney caused water damage to the main floor living room's ceiling and walls.

Sholin said that about three weeks after the fire, Knutzen came over and said the firefighters had been talking about the fire and said they wanted to help her rebuild the house if somebody could come up with the materials.

"He said right now is a busy time and as soon as it calms down, probably after Labor Day, they would probably come down - as long as there were materials," said Sholin.

Sholin said that Knutzen has come to see her about every Saturday since the fire took place to see how she is getting along.

"He keeps in touch," she said. "He hasn't forgotten about it. It's just an unfortunate accident. I know the firefighters feel bad about it."

According to Sholin, part of what has helped to keep her spirits up while she has had to live in the fire-damaged house is due to the actions of Knutzen as well as neighbors and friends who have expressed the desire to help out.

According to figures prepared by Knutzen, it would cost approximately $3,300 for the materials to make the necessary repairs to the house. For the materials and the labor, the total cost would be in the range of $11,000.

A fund has been set up a the Bank of the Pacific for anyone who wishes to make a donation in order to help Sholin fix the damage to her home from the fire. It's called the "Help Marilyn Fund." To make a contribution to the fund call the bank at 642-3777.

Anyone who wishes to contribute any building materials for repairs to Sholin's home or to donate their time can call Nancy Meriwether at 642-2938.

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