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February 9, 2013

Berkley family’s home destroyed by fire

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This house on Catalpa Drive, just west of Woodward Avenue, in Berkley was destroyed by a fire that started in the basement and quickly engulfed the entire home Feb. 2.

A Berkley family was able to make a safe escape after a fire that started in their basement quickly spread to the rest of the house.

According to Deputy Public Safety Director Bob North, the department received a call around 7 p.m. Feb. 2 about a massive fire that had broken out at a house on Catalpa Drive, just west of Woodward Avenue. When firefighters arrived, the two-story bungalow was already engulfed in flames.

“The fire started in the basement, but it spread very quickly through the heat ducts up to the first floor and then the second floor,” North explained. “It didn’t take very long for it to get all the way up to the attic.”

Fortunately, the family — a father, mother and their three children — was able to make it out of the house without injury, and the fire did not spread to any neighboring properties.

“They attempted to put the fire out themselves, but it was already too far gone by that point,” North said. “There was really nothing that they could do.”

Berkley public safety officers were assisted in their efforts by firefighters from Beverly Hills and Oak Park. Together, the team was able to extinguish the blaze within a couple hours but remained at the scene until around midnight. According to North, battling this fire proved to be an especially difficult task.

“Our firefighting efforts were hampered by the cold weather,” he said, “which caused some of our equipment to freeze up. It’s also not easy working with ladders when there’s ice on the ground. Then, once we got inside, there were several void areas in the walls (where the fire had spread) that we had to deal with.”

The case is still under investigation, North stated, and the cause of the fire is still unknown at this time. It is believed, however, that the blaze may have started because of a mechanical failure in the dryer in the basement.

While North was unsure of the total estimated cost in damage to the property, he noted that the destruction was “really severe.” He added that the family’s insurance company would have to determine whether the house can be salvaged, but that this option was unlikely.

Dottie Popp, owner of Peggendott Design Studio in downtown Berkley, lives across the street from the house with her son. She came home about an hour after the fire began and was “absolutely amazed” to find her street filled with a cloud of smoke, along with three fire trucks and a team of firefighters.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and I never want to see anything like it again,” she said. “Everyone has nightmares about things like this, but you never expect it to happen to you or someone you know. I can’t even imagine how panicked and terrified (the family) must have been.”

Popp said that she was unsure of where the family is living right now. Still, she hoped that the Berkley community would rally around them during this very difficult time.

“I would like to know what they need and what we can do to help them get those things,” she said. “I feel like, as a community, we should do whatever we can to help them. This is something that I will never forget. It’s a real wake-up call, because it could happen to any of us.”