An early-morning fire Thursday demolished two structures in Fort Seward and claimed about $80,000 in property, but fireman Al Badgley said the damage could have been much worse.
The fire incinerated a 24-by-24-foot workshop and small garden shed belonging to Leo and George Ann Smith around 7:30 a.m. Thursday. The blaze also destroyed an adjoining boathouse, containing a Boston Whaler pleasure craft complete with brand-new motor.
Leo Smith said he was burning grass with a propane-fueled weed burner near the shop, but made sure the sparks were out before turning to tend to another area of the yard. Smith noticed something amiss when he turned around and saw smoke pluming from the structure.
“At first I ran and grabbed a five-gallon bucket of water and was throwing that on there, but it already got such a start on the shop that it was burning inside... I started hollering and screaming at my wife, but she was in the shower and she didn’t hear me at first. Finally, I got on my cell phone and called the fire department,” Smith said.
Four engines and 22 firefighters responded within five minutes, Badgley said. The department sent four engines because of the fire’s location: its proximity to other buildings, including a lumberyard across the street.
“Considering the fire was fully involved by the time we got there, to keep it to the building involved and not let it spread to the other structures is probably the best we could hope for,” Badgley said.
Luckily the wind, which would have helped the fire spread to other buildings in the fort, didn’t pick up until 9 a.m., Badgley said.
In addition to the boat and two motors, Smith lost two deep freezers, a lawnmower, chainsaws, countless power and hand tools, and many irreplaceable items, including a $3,000 set of elk horns. “It’s a beautiful elk. Or it used to be,” Smith said, looking at the charred remains of his old workspace.
Some of the items can’t be replaced, Smith said. “There are 10,000 things. Souvenirs, antiques that my grandparents had... probably $30,000 worth of stuff that I won’t ever be able to replace,” he said.
Smith, who estimated the total damage at around $80,000, said though he’s been burning grass in the yard without incident for 54 years, he knows the fire was his fault. “I definitely feel responsible. I mean, who else could I blame?”
Badgley said many people burn grass before green-up to provide nutrients for the incoming vegetation. He encouraged people intending to perform controlled burns to contact the fire department for advice or consultation to avoid accidents.