By JO ANN BOBBY-GILBERT
EAST LIVERPOOL The state fire marshal is investigating a blaze that destroyed the historic Blanche Williams homestead in Beaver Creek State Park sometime overnight Tuesday.
Fire officials were alerted Wednesday morning that the home was on the ground, still smoking, with some hot spots showing.
Ironically, it was the sister of Calcutta Fire Chief Scott Smith who found the home had been destroyed while making her morning walk around the park According to Smith, she smelled smoke but wasn't at first able to see the house which lies on the other side of the lake from her walking route. Upon closer inspection, she realized it had burned with some hot spots still evident.
Although the actual time of the fire is not known, Smith said his parents who live on nearby Birch Road, said they had smelled smoke about 4 a.m. but could not find its source.
Glenmoor Fire Department responded with a truck to douse the burning embers and place caution tape around the building, but assistant Chief Bill Bennett said there wasn't much else that could be done.
The house is actually located in the Negley Fire Department jurisdiction, and Bennett said he did contact its chief.
However, he pointed out the area was blanketed with storms Tuesday night, including lightning.
The red metal roof that topped the house had turned completely yellow from the heat of the blaze except for one small section that still had a red circle of paint with black charring around it, indicating the possibility of a lightning strike.
Bennett said it was fortunate heavy rains had continued throughout the night, which apparently helped keep the fire from spreading into other nearby buildings and thousands of acres of wooded land, although nearby trees were charred, and the plastic covering on a sign nearby was bubbled from heat.
Large pieces of ash from the fire were spotted as far away as the manager's office.
The location of the house under thick trees may have prevented anyone from noticing smoke and flames overnight and fire officials said the metal roof probably contained the blaze much better than a traditional wood and shingle one might, causing the structure to burn underneath rather than spread.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has asked the state fire marshal's office to investigate.
Michael Duchesne, a spokesman from the fire marshal's office, said the investigation is continuing, with the cause undetermined at this point. He said when damage is this extensive, investigators "do have a hard time determining the cause."
Fire inspectors were on the scene yesterday, and Duchesne said he expects the investigation to take at least a few days. There was electric service connected to the porch but not inside the home, fire officials reported.
Park manager Karl Mattern said the fact that the back portion of Echo Dell Road leading into the park from the Clarkson area has been closed may have something to do with why no one saw the blaze because, normally, a car or two may have been traveling through.
Built in 1875, the house was the former home of Blanche Hickman-Williams, daughter of Levi Hickman, the last private owner of Gaston's Mill located in the park.
Mattern said the Friends of Beaver Creek (FOBC) maintained and operated the house, saying, "This is a big loss to that group, as well as to the park."
It was often open for tours and, during park events, often served as the backdrop for musical performers who set up their instruments on the front porch.
A call left with the FOBC was not returned last night, but Bennett said he heard some members discussing the possibility of rebuilding the house, which was not insured.