Holiday Shores couple's home destroyed by fire

(Originally published in the Telegraph on 7/7/2008)

HOLIDAY SHORES - A Holiday Shores couple escaped their burning home Monday after a smoke alarm in their basement shrieked of disaster.

Don and Mary Baugh, both 68, escaped uninjured, but flames ravaged the house that had been their home since 1989. Tragedy struck the married retirees just weeks before their 50th wedding anniversary.

Fire departments from at least 10 towns, including Holiday Shores, Prairietown, Edwardsville, Hamel, Bunker Hill, Dorsey, Bethalto, Cottage Hills, Meadowbrook and Alton, responded to the house in the 1800 block of Sextant Drive in Holiday Shores. Firefighters from Holiday Shores were the first to arrive about 1:10 p.m. Monday.

The fire began just before 1 p.m., Mary Baugh said.

The problem originated in the utility room, where the wires to their grinder pump met the house wires in an electrical box, Don Baugh said.

"I was doing some carpentry work to fix a leak" when the smoke detector beeped, Don said. He said he grabbed a household fire extinguisher and tried to douse the flames.

"I extinguished the fire where it started, but by that time, it had already gotten to a closet full of winter clothes," he said. "I could have put it out if not for the smoke."

Mary, who was watching TV at the time the alarm sounded, said the fire caught her by surprise.

"I had just been in that room five minutes before it happened," Mary said. She said she did not smell any smoke before the alarm was triggered.

"When that smoke alarm went off, I walked out of the basement with the dog," she said.

Mary also salvaged her purse, the couple's only possession spared from the fire.

Firefighters battled the blaze for hours, but flames managed to destroy most of the wood-frame house and its contents. No firefighters were injured.

"Because of the basement's makeup, it was tough to get to the fire," said Holiday Shores Assistant Fire Chief Steve Cooper. The basement's patterning of several small rooms complicated the firefighters' access to the fire.

"If we leave here in the next three or four hours, I'd be surprised," Cooper said at 3:20 p.m. "After we put the fire out, we'll be cleaning up and trying to determine the exact cause and origin."

"Pretty much everything but the garage" was burned, said Caila Peckham, the Baughs' granddaughter. "I don't think there's going to be anything left."

"All my junk in the garage got saved. The important things are gone," Don said.

During the fire, the roof collapsed in the middle, creating a hole that released a cloud of gray and brown smoke. Gaping holes where windows once stood widened into the charred wood, and the roof and railings of the covered deck burned down. Smoke seeped through the walls of the lakeside residence. The back yard was reduced to a sloppy mess of mud, suds and dead grass from the downhill drainage of the firefighters' hose water.

Neighbors chipped in to provide bottled water and other supplies for the Baughs and the firefighters.

"I was on the lake, fishing, when I saw smoke come off the house, and I came up to see it," one neighbor said. "It has been a real community effort. People have been bringing them water and ice. It's heartwarming to see that."

"I heard a boom but didn't really think anything of it at first," said next-door-neighbor Danica Surgant.

Surgant did not realize the Baughs' house caught fire - also warping her house's white siding - until she received a telephone call from her mother. She cared for the Baughs' dog while the couple awaited the arrival of firefighters.

Peckham noted the irony in Don's gray T-shirt, which read, "There's no place like home," but Don did not fret for a lack of somewhere to stay Monday night.

"We've got friends and family to stay with for now," Don said. "We're not worried about that."

Family members lamented Don and Mary's loss, but they were relieved no one was hurt.

"There are lots of years of stuff in there, but stuff can be replaced; people can't," said daughter-in-law Kim Baugh.