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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
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.

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travisp73 02/21/13 - 10:51 pm
Just to clarify.....

I once knew a firefighter. That's about the extent of my expertise which I feel has me on par with most of the others posting their opinions on this matter.

Fiat_Lux 02/22/13 - 05:08 pm
Well, Travis, since you aren't a fireman

and your "evidence", as you call it, is based purely on the AC article about this fire and its sequelae, then you don't really have anything to worry about for insinuating that the homeowners are arsonists.

Except your conscience...perhaps.

Blessed34 02/23/13 - 01:57 am
A Fine Southern Mansion,

The first and finest memories of my life begin here. As well as the elegant home adjoining this fine mansion. The cottage in the back is where I learned how to climb out of my playpen. From there, Grandma would let me crawl into the kitchen of the main house while she made me breakfast. From the kitchen table, I would look up the lofty walls and see a lot of brightly lit glass, behind the glass was a variety fine glistening objects. They were extremely eye catching to me. Once I learned how to walk, I would run with Grace, Sapphire, Michael and Ashley all throughout this magnificent mansion. In the dining room, I'd run around the entire table with my very first friends. After which, we would toddle into a sitting room which led into one of many great rooms. It was in one special room, where I learn how to tap the keys of a Grand Piano. After my brief performances, I would waddle myself through two more glorious rooms filled with fine furniture and pictures, ultimately try to meander up those beautiful escalating stairs.

Grandma always got me!!!

I have a picture of my mother in her bridal gown on those gorgeous stairs.

When I first started school, I lived in the elegant home adjoining this property. It was there I learned how to ride my bike and swim with my first friends in an enormous size swimming pool. Sadly, it was also the last time that I got to see, spend and swim with my Grandfather.

My first and finest memories were built on faith, family, friends and home.

travisp73 02/23/13 - 07:52 pm
im being serious here.....

Not just trying to get you fired up. Are you saying that its okay for people to challenge the professionalism of 60 or so firefighters (admittedly I'm guessing at that number, but the incident did span over three days which I believe is 3 different shifts) but if anyone questions a group of 3 or 4 then that should weigh on my conscience?

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