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Walton Way homeowners frustrated over repeated fires

Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 8:37 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 12:24 AM
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Augusta firefighters were called twice Monday to extinguish a blaze at the same Walton Way mansion – the fourth time in three days – and property owners and fire officials are at odds over who is responsible.

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Augusta-Richmond County firefighters respond to a house on fire on Walton Way for the fourth time in three days Monday evening.   TODD BENNETT/STAFF
TODD BENNETT/STAFF
Augusta-Richmond County firefighters respond to a house on fire on Walton Way for the fourth time in three days Monday evening.


Standing on the front lawn of his $500,000 home, owner James Cartee said he was sickened by the damage inside and upset that firefighters didn’t “finish the job” the first two times they were there this weekend.

“After the third fire started, I’m starting to think it is negligence,” he said.

The wood-frame, three-story house was a century old when Cartee and John W. Adams Jr. bought it in 1991. Cartee said they spent the next 12 years remodeling and renovating the house, which included attaching a cottage in the back. The result was a rambling, 8,700-square-foot, 23-room structure, filled with antiques and art.

On Monday afternoon, it was a wreck. Sodden carpets and crumbling drywall filled its corridors, and the entire third floor was a blackened ruin.

“It’s a beautiful home,” Cartee said. “At least, it used to be.”

It all began Saturday evening just after Cartee and a friend went out for dinner. Before they could sit down, he got a call from a housemate that his home was on fire.

Firefighters arrived at 2343 Walton Way at 8:50 p.m. and quickly extinguished the fire, which was started by an attic exhaust fan. Most of the damage was limited to the third floor. Cartee said firefighters left a tarp for some of his furniture and told him that the house was safe to stay in for the night.

“(They) were as nice as they could be,” he said. “They helped us move furniture and everything. We slept there Saturday night.”

It was after breakfast on Sunday morning that the fire started again, he said. They were inspecting damage and opened an attic access door. Cartee said air rushed in and rekindled the charred timbers.

Fire crews arrived at 11:50 a.m. to a much bigger blaze. This time, fire spread to the second floor and caused damage to a much wider area. The last fire crew left about 4 p.m., according to an Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department report.

Cartee said the house was not habitable after that. All the power had been turned off, and there was water and smoke damage throughout the house.

Cartee said they called firefighters once again Sunday evening to check out some smoke they spotted rising from the debris.

“They said it was just steam and it was OK,” he said.

He and his housemates spent the night elsewhere but went back Monday morning to survey damage and look for Sadie, a 2-year-old black cat who was still missing from the day before. It was about 10 a.m. when they smelled smoke and called 911 again.

“The fire sprang up from the same place we had seen the steam,” Cartee said.

That time, fire damaged the first floor and other areas. Cartee said he and Adams were upset over the damage and the repeated fires. They were also alarmed when fire investigators began to imply Monday’s fire had suspicious origins.

“They were saying it looked like arson,” Cartee said. “I poured everything I had into that house for years. I’m not going to burn it down.”

Tempers flared, and police were called. Adams and housemate Justin Ryhe were arrested and charged with interfering with a sheriff’s deputy. They were released from the Richmond County jail Monday evening.

Fire officials, however, said it was too soon to say what started Monday morning’s fire.

Chief Chris James said he was told that initial evidence did not point toward a rekindling of the previous fire, but the investigation was incomplete.

Rob Link, who also lives at the house and did much of the renovation, said the old home has a lot of hollow walls and chases where smoldering embers could hide and flame up later.

He spent part of Monday afternoon leading fire investigation Lt. Carlton Bradley into hidden areas where fire could linger.

Link later said they didn’t find all the hot spots. Just after 6 p.m. Monday, fire crews were again at the residence to put out another blaze.

“We were moving furniture and it caught fire again,” he said.

Comments (31) Add comment
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J R
28
Points
J R 02/18/13 - 11:41 pm
6
3
Maybe things were a tad

Maybe things were a tad heated up within the home as well.

CobaltGeorge
175532
Points
CobaltGeorge 02/19/13 - 08:27 am
2
3
Ghost

didn't like the way it was remodeled.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 02/19/13 - 08:57 am
0
0
Frustration, frustration, frustration
Unpublished

Homeowner is frustrated
House mates are frustrated?
Fire department is frustrated
Neighbors are frustrated
The embers are frustrated
The ghost of Christmas Past is frustrated
Spontaneous combustion is frustrated
Too many "closets" are frustrated

Fiat_Lux
16420
Points
Fiat_Lux 02/19/13 - 09:21 am
2
1
Way to go guys

Nothing like blowing the owners off when they're concerned about their home. Do you really think they would have called you back out--THREE TIMES!--if they weren't trying to save their home? Too bad Rob Link wasn't directing the show starting Saturday night.

It makes me nervous to think about the level of competence that would result in this kind of outcome. And I want a public explanation. If this kind of mess-up had happened in a hospital, everyone involved and their supervisors would be going through remediation seminars and protocol training.

I believe Chris James has some public image remediation and reassurance to do.

crkgrdn
2287
Points
crkgrdn 02/19/13 - 09:58 am
3
1
Is investigative journalism dead?

So, we read an extensive description of what happened. Isn't the AC staff in any way curious about why the fires occurred?

Sean Moores
1059
Points
Sean Moores 02/19/13 - 10:16 am
4
0
@ crkgrdn

We don't have any fire investigators on staff. I assure you that once the fire officials' investigation is complete we will follow up if warranted.
"Fire officials, however, said it was too soon to say what started Monday morning’s fire.
Chief Chris James said he was told that initial evidence did not point toward a rekindling of the previous fire, but the investigation was incomplete."

Adam Bomb
359
Points
Adam Bomb 02/19/13 - 10:41 am
6
3
Did they need to get arrested?

Look, their house is burning up bit by bit. The fire department can't seem to get it put out. Then they're informed the fire was suspicious. Who wouldn't get upset? Then a Deputy arrives and hears the language and decides to haul everybody to jail. So now they have a police record as well as a possibly voided insurance policy thanks to idle comments that the fire was suspicious. Too bad those guys weren't black. Our new "Sheriff" could have gotten the charges dropped.

Riverman1
93501
Points
Riverman1 02/19/13 - 10:52 am
8
0
The Fire Dept can't put the

The Fire Dept can't put the fire out in three tries, implies it's arson and has the owners arrested. Disgusting and pathetic.

Willow Bailey
20605
Points
Willow Bailey 02/19/13 - 11:43 am
6
0
The arrest did not appear to

The arrest did not appear to be fire related. They seem to have been arrested for getting upset. Now they have been prematurely painted as arsonists. I hope they have a great lawyer.

Fiat_Lux
16420
Points
Fiat_Lux 02/19/13 - 02:37 pm
2
0
Disgusting and pathetic is right

It's not a good sign when the fire department tries to cover its own patookus by blaming the victim.

And ain't this just more of what the county needs!? A huge, quite justifiable libel lawsuit.

Perhaps homeowners in the 'Terry or Harrisburg who get upset over bad public service can be cowed into silence, but people smart enough to be able to afford renovating a house on Walton Way probably won't have much trouble dealing with public servants who might have make big mistakes and then chose to shoot off their mouths inappropriately.

PghSteelersFan
141
Points
PghSteelersFan 02/19/13 - 03:51 pm
5
0
Jim Cartee and John Adams are

Jim Cartee and John Adams are not people who would start fires. I know them. They bought a house which was in sad shape and restored it. To have the house burn even once is a terrible thing to have happen to them let alone it start burning again and again.
The question is why weren't the firemen more informed about how burning embers could fall down inside the walls and be sure to look for them in the first place? There are a lot of houses in Summerville which were built over 100 years ago. They have a lot of quirks a more modern house doesn't have.
I don't blame John for getting upset either. As a homeowner he had every right. It seems the sheriff's department needs to have a lesson in restraint when someone's home is ruined by fire and unwarranted comments about arson when no investigation has been started are being bantered around.
Those charges should be dropped.

JJZ
7
Points
JJZ 02/19/13 - 04:02 pm
5
0
Walto Way Fire

Every fire department should have an infrared camera (thermal camera). Infrared detects any anomolies that exist compared to normal conditions. These cameras do not see through the walls, but they are more than capable of detecting heat behind plaster walls. A properly trained and certified infrared technician should have thoroughly inspected the entire house after an electrical fire. It seems obvious that the Richmond County Fire Department was either deficiently trained to use this technology or was negligent in performing a proper scan. Blame it on someone else; this seems to be the popular route taken by Government entities from the White House down. No responsibility nor accountability. What a discrace to arrest this homeowner for actually speaking his mind; even though frustrated by these antics. The law dogs should have more discretion and compassion to deal with this situation. This further sheds the light on the services we all (most of us) pay for tax after tax hike. I suggest the owner investigate whether the thermal camera user was PROPERLY TRAINED AND CERTIFIED. If you get stonewalled, records of certified infrared technicians are kept in each state and may be obtained via the web. Sorry for your loss Jim and John; I believe negligence is very apparent. Another government coverup! CYA. Infrared testing and electrical system preventive maintenance is my profession.

Cynical old woman
1111
Points
Cynical old woman 02/19/13 - 04:53 pm
6
0
Absurd

Any homeowner would be livid,! Fire chiefs have been a hoot in Richmond County...now the trickle down effect has begun! This is really beyond my comprehension....incompetence is rampant in all aspects of government. And Richmond County government is a three ring circus is itself!

Cynical old woman
1111
Points
Cynical old woman 02/19/13 - 04:55 pm
0
0
Absurd

Any homeowner would be livid,! Fire chiefs have been a hoot in Richmond County...now the trickle down effect has begun! This is really beyond my comprehension....incompetence is rampant in all aspects of government. And Richmond County government is a three ring circus is itself!

CJH
48
Points
CJH 02/19/13 - 04:57 pm
0
0
Thank goodness!!

Thank goodness no one was killed or injured after they were told it was safe to sleep in a house that was still a danger! I hope that the cat, Sadie, has been found and is safe & sound. What a mess!!

americafirst
1001
Points
americafirst 02/19/13 - 05:22 pm
2
1
Community policing at its

Community policing at its finest!! The lesson being taught here is do not question the gov't.

americafirst
1001
Points
americafirst 02/19/13 - 05:22 pm
0
1
Community policing at its

Community policing at its finest!! The lesson being taught here is do not question the gov't.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 02/19/13 - 05:27 pm
2
0
Truly, the news coming out of
Unpublished

Truly, the news coming out of Augusta just this week is enough to fill one Ripley's Believe It or Not museum.

By the way, how many brain contortions did it take to twist this into a slam of the new Sheriff??

CobaltGeorge
175532
Points
CobaltGeorge 02/19/13 - 05:52 pm
0
1
Same As

it would be to try an twist the killing of 4 Americans into a slam of the Hammer& Sickle Man.

corgimom
38321
Points
corgimom 02/19/13 - 06:21 pm
2
0
Back when I lived in South

Back when I lived in South Augusta, my neighbor's house caught fire from a pan of grease on the stove. The fire dept came, put the fire out-after the house was badly burned. I looked up at the roof ridge and I told a firefighter, "Hey, I see a flame, it's not out." He said, "I don't see anything." I said, "Well, I do, it's not out." They left without putting any more water on it. One hour later, I called them back, the house had reignited. The second fire destroyed what little had been left from the first fire. The poor woman lost everything that she had. So Mr. Cartee is not alone.

thauch12
7071
Points
thauch12 02/19/13 - 07:27 pm
2
0
Add the clown who arrested

Add the clown who arrested these two poor guys after they lost their home to the list of cops on power trips along with the one in Grovetown who cited the guy for shooting a BB gun in his backyard. What is wrong with some of these law enforcement officers?!

Fiat_Lux
16420
Points
Fiat_Lux 02/19/13 - 08:15 pm
0
0
JV Detroit, Southern version

The level of competence is as alarming as the level of arrogance.

And countyman just can't figure out why anyone would want to get the heck out of Richmond County as quickly as possible.

Dorothy Kernaghan-Baez
16
Points
Dorothy Kernaghan-Baez 02/19/13 - 08:46 pm
0
0
crkgrdn, the cause of the

crkgrdn, the cause of the fire is stated in paragraph 8 of the story. It says an attic fan was the problem.

firstdue
2
Points
firstdue 02/21/13 - 09:13 am
0
0
REKINDLE

Rekindles do happen however, checking for fire extension to prevent this is engrained in every Fire Dept. SOP. No FD wants the embarrassment of a rekindle. So, having to return three times over several days may best be left to the Fire Marshals Office or a private fire investigator. A real mess at any rate.

travisp73
53
Points
travisp73 02/20/13 - 03:15 pm
0
0
Wow....

You people are a trip. The initial fire started and was put out. Then 3 rekindles in different areas of the house. Suspicious at the VERY least. And ironically once the house was boarded up there are no more "rekindles".........

Fiat_Lux
16420
Points
Fiat_Lux 02/20/13 - 04:09 pm
0
0
Travis, my friend, correlation does not equate with cause

Just because you see storks roosting on homes where babies are born doesn't mean that storks bring babies.

You'd have a hard time proving that keeping the homeowners, etc, out of the house is the reason the fire was finally completely out. After 3 returns trips, you can bet the fire dept peeps were pretty intently focused on using their IR equipment correctly and adequately.

scorehouse
196
Points
scorehouse 02/20/13 - 06:31 pm
0
0
nothing like
Unpublished

"blowing the owners off". LMAO! that's classic. no pun intended of course.

travisp73
53
Points
travisp73 02/20/13 - 08:18 pm
0
0
Fiat

You're absolutely correct. Evidence is overrated. These comments are silly at best. I will sleep better at night, however, knowing that Augusta is chock full of fire investigators.

Fiat_Lux
16420
Points
Fiat_Lux 02/21/13 - 03:16 pm
0
1
Well, Travis,

Unless you are a fireman who has been on the scene of that fire and actually KNOW YOURSELF what the evidence of their involvement is, you really don't have much to say about evidence that would be of interest.

If you ARE a fireman involved in this case, you'd probably be wise to be more circumspect in what you post about the owners. The Augusta Comical can track you down by your IP address and make you available for further discussions-- with their lawyers.

travisp73
53
Points
travisp73 02/21/13 - 09:47 pm
0
0
waaaaaa.

The comical (as you so eloquently call it) is where I got my info. A fire started. A fire was put out. Many hrs later someone "finds more fire". Fire Dept is called again. Fire is put out again. Many hrs later someone finds more fire. Fire Dept called out again. Fire is put out..........again. Admittedly I don't recall if the news said there was a 4th "rekindle". Perhaps you could help me out there. I'm just a reader of the paper. I read what happened (as told by The Chronicle) and thought it sounded fishy. Nothing more, nothing less. Why would someone who reads the paper and forms an opinion need to have legal threats tossed at them? No one is threatening the people that agree with you, correct? Carry on with your day you big ray of sunshine. I'm gonna go read another news item and form another opinion.

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