UPDATE: Fire causes extensive damage to duplex

Saturday, October 3, 2009 | 10:41 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Investigators believe a fire that caused extensive damage to a Silver Mill Drive duplex Saturday afternoon was caused by children playing with matches.

The three children, ages 8, 11 and 14, were alone at the time of the fire, Columbia Fire Department Capt. Eric Hartman said, but they escaped unharmed.

Hartman said there was originally a 911 hang-up call from the residence at 12:45 p.m., and when the operator called back, fire alarms could be heard.

Five fire engines from the Fire Department and one from the Boone County Fire Protection District arrived at the scene to find flames shooting out of the building, Hartman said. The fire was contained in 20 minutes.

Cheryl Johnson, a neighbor who lives in the adjoining half of the duplex, said the three boys who escaped from the duplex rang her doorbell several times and yelled for help. She said she saw flames coming out of the building when she walked outside. Johnson added that two adults and one baby in her part of the duplex escaped.

Investigators later said the children accidentally started the fire while playing with matches and incense sticks in an upstairs bedroom.

Hartman said there was heat, water and smoke damage throughout the duplex estimated at $100,000. The other half of the duplex was not damaged.

The Red Cross was called in to provide aid to the displaced family.

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