COLUMBIA — A Columbia woman was injured and two cats were killed when a house on Park Avenue caught fire Tuesday afternoon.
Adam Sperandio, who lives two houses down from the site of the fire, said he heard four or five loud booming noises that sounded "like a wrecking ball" about 12:15 p.m. He went outside and found the front of the house at 909 Park Ave. engulfed in flames.
Columbia Fire Department units responded to the house at 12:24 p.m. and arrived within two minutes, Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer said. They found flames shooting out of the front of the house. The fire crews were able to contain the blaze within about five minutes of arrival.
One woman, Evelyn Ewing, was in the house when the fire started, Fire Marshal Jim Pasley said. She was struggling to escape out the front door of the house when Mike Wade, a technician at nearby Woody's Auto Center, spotted her from the truck where he was eating his lunch. He was able to pull her to safety.
Ewing, who lives in the house, didn't appear to have been burned, Fraizer said. She was taken to University Hospital for injuries related to smoke inhalation, Pasley said. She was stable Tuesday afternoon.
Ewing was believed to be on a home oxygen machine, Fraizer said. But neither Fraizer nor Pasley could say how the fire started.
In the aftermath of the fire, the siding above the windows of the house was charred, and scorched debris, including a table, chairs and a mailbox, was strewn across the front lawn.
Fire crews remained on the scene for hours after containing the fire to put out burning embers and search for smoldering rubble. The firefighters had to cut out a segment of the roof to reach the attic.
During the fire overhaul activities, the crews found the bodies of the two cats.
Fraizer said the proximity of Fire Station No. 1, right around the corner from the site of the fire, allowed the firefighters to stop the spread of the damage.
"This could have been a lot worse if it had been in the middle of the night," Fraizer said. "If we didn't have units so close, the fire could have gotten more involved with the structure."
Rob and Jackie Mitlo were eating breakfast outside nearby Cafe Berlin when the fire started. The Pittsburgh couple were in town visiting their daughter, Kelly Scanlon, who is a student at MU and a Missourian staff member.
A patron at the restaurant ran next door to the Fire Department to alert authorities about the blaze.
"From where I was sitting, I could see smoke coming over the building," Rob Mitlo said. "I stood up and I actually saw the flames coming out of the top window of the house."
He said that the flames spread to electrical lines above the house and gave off loud popping sounds that sounded like fireworks.
Columbia resident Andy Baul was waiting for the bus at Wabash Station and said that noises from the fire sounded like gunshots.
Employees from Columbia Water and Light also responded to the scene to determine the extent of the damage to the power lines, Fraizer said. As late as 12:48 p.m., a section of power lines in front of the house still had flickering patches of flames.
Fire investigators were working Tuesday afternoon to determine where the fire started and what caused it, according to a Fire Department news release. A damage estimate was not available as of 5 p.m.
Michael Alvey contributed to this story.
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