Originally created 11/27/01

Recent fires had similar cause



AIKEN - The fires that damaged the Willcox Inn and a house on Hampton Avenue both ignited after pipes that were being heated by blowtorches caused fires, police said Monday.

Aiken Department of Public Safety Inspector David Turno said plumbers use the torches in a process known as "sweating the pipes," in which they melt edges of two pipes to fit them together.

Often those pipes catch fire and plumbers routinely snuff the fires out, but the plumbers working with the torches at the Willcox Inn and the house at 1331 Hampton Ave. left some embers hot, Inspector Turno said.

The fire in a second-floor bathroom of the historic inn in downtown Aiken probably started Wednesday after workers left for the Thanksgiving holiday, he said.

Firefighters were called to the inn Thursday about 8 a.m.

"Nobody saw it growing and growing until it finally came out and people saw smoke coming out of the roof," Inspector Turno said.

General contractor Donny Parker of R.W. Allen and Associates Inc., which has been renovating the inn since July, said that before last week's fire the inn was supposed to open in January. With the damages, Mr. Parker said, the inn's opening is "up in the air," but has been postponed at least a month.

About $1 million in renovations had been completed.

Last week, renters at the Hampton Avenue house, Irving and Lydia Brooks, said their landlord was working on plumbing about 8:30 p.m. Nov. 20 when he left to go to Lowe's.

About 10 minutes later, they said, they saw smoke coming out of the shower head.

Both fires have been ruled accidental, Inspector Turno said.

Damages to the inn were estimated at $50,000 and affected about one-third of the building. Inspector Turno said some damages were attributed to water used in putting out the fire.

Fire at the Hampton Avenue home caused an estimated $60,000 in damages because of the house catching fire again Wednesday.

Inspector Turno said a cause for the second fire at the Hampton Avenue house, which destroyed much of the left side of the structure, has not been determined. It could have been embers reigniting, he said.

Reach Matthew Boedy or Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395.

Officials say the reopening date of the Willcox Inn is "up in the air" but has been pushed back at least a month by a Thanksgiving Day fire.