Massive mansion fire tears through historic home on St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans

No one was injured in the 7-alarm fire
Firefighters work to put out a 7-alarm fire at a historical home in the Garden District.
Firefighters work to put out a 7-alarm fire at a historical home in the Garden District.(NOFD)
Updated: Feb. 20, 2019 at 4:22 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans firefighters have a 7-alarm house fire under control after it burned in the Garden District for most of the day.

According to the New Orleans Fire Department, firefighters received the call at 7:44 a.m. Wednesday morning. Firefighters arrived on scene at 7:48 a.m to find the three-story Victorian-style mansion at 2500 block of St. Charles Avenue.

Three people were able to escape the home, including an elderly woman and a dog. No one was injured, according to NOFD.

NOFD Superintendent Michael McConnell said the fire appeared to start in the home’s basement and spread quickly to the second floor. According to NOFD, yellow smoke was seen coming from the basement, indicating the possibility of chlorine being involved.

The homeowner told NOFD personnel that chlorine and other pool products were stored in the basement, confirming the NOFD’s suspicions. This prompted the evacuation of all fire operations personnel from the basement and first floor as other firefighters attempted to get ahead of the fire on the second and third floors.

He said the old structure practically created a funnel for the flames to reach the roof.

Third, fourth and fifth alarms were requested at 8:16 a.m., 8:42 a.m. and 9:04 a.m. respectively as the fire entered the walls of the home and escalated into the attic.

A four-story apartment building near the house was evacuated as the fire intensified, eventually burning through the roof of the home and into surrounding tree canopies.

Several of the units received varying degrees of smoke and water damage during this incident.

One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation. Another fighter stepped through a floor, but was not injured and continued to fight the flames.

Parts of the home have already collapsed, but there is no fear of the fire spreading, according to McConnell.

“Unfortunately, this is a catastrophic loss,” the fire chief said. “Our hearts go out to this family.”

McConnell said there were no water pressure problems. The S&WB was already at the NOFD command center when the third alarm was struck. McConnell said there were no problems with water pressure as his crews fought the fire.

Twenty-five NOFD units carrying eighty-two fire ops personnel were used to fight the fire. It was brought under control at 1:45 p.m.

Mutual Aid has been requested and dispatched from St. Tammany Parish, Jefferson Parish, Kenner and St. Bernard Fire Departments to assist in covering areas of the city left unprotected by large NOFD presence at scene to this incident.

The cause of the fire won’t be known until a full investigation has been completed.

The home is known as the Montgomery-Grace home. The house is a traditional stop for the Rex parade on Mardi Gras.

A long line of monarchs for the parade have come from the house. Rex has stopped during its route to toast at the location.

Uptown-bound St. Charles Ave. is closed to traffic from First to the fire on St. Charles Ave. Police are directing traffic. Entergy reported a number of power outages in the area due to the incident. They estimated power would be restored by 12:30 p.m.

Portions of the St. Charles Streetcar line had closed due to the fire. According to RTA, the streetcar line from Louisiana to Jackson was temporarily suspended as firefighter continue to battle the fire.

Shuttle bus service will be provided, according to RTA.

Bus shuttles will detour from St. Charles & Louisiana to LaSalle before turning onto Simon Bolivar and returning to the route at St. Charles & Jackson.

McConnell said someone parked in front of a fire hydrant that the NOFD needed to use. That vehicle was towed away.

House owners Anne and Bill Grace, and family members watched the house go up in flames from the opposite side of St. Charles Ave.

Bill Grace told that he came downstairs after hearing the fire alarm and he saw smoke. Anne Grace helped her 92-year-old grandmother and the dog out of the house.

According to Mardi Gras Historian Arthur Hardy, this is not the first fire at the home. There was a minor fire about 12 years ago.

Since 1906 it has served as a toasting spot for Rex.

McConnell said this is one of the largest fires he has ever seen in New Orleans. He said the risk of collapse is prominent, so firefighters are taking the proper precautions.

Firefighters continued through the night to work to make sure all of the hot spots inside of the home were out. Chief McConnell estimates that firefighters will be on scene for another 24 to 48 hours.

“We have the potential for collapse. You have chimney standing, you have part of the structure that’s not supported,” says McConnell.

But when the fire’s out, there is still work that will need to be done.

“Once we get it safe, it’s so our investigators can get inside and try to determine exactly what started this fire.”

While McConnell says that the historic home is a total loss, that’s not saying that there’s no hope for reconstruction.

Preservation Architect Robert Cangelosi says the city will likely determine whether it’s salvageable, but that’s not likely to happen for a while.

“We won’t know until it’s stabilized,” says Cangelosi. " As I said, parts of it are still collapsing. So, we still need to see what’s there and whether it can be salvaged. Hopefully, it will be salvaged and can restore the building to its original prominence along the avenue.

McConnell says more important than the historical significance of the home, the people who lived there.

“Someone lost their home today. That’s’s heart wrenching to see that effect a fellow resident of the city,” says McConnell. “The historic thing is tragic but at the end of the day, everyone got out with their lives.”

Those living in this historic home are not the only ones displaced.

McConnell says the folks living in the 20 or so units in the five story apartment complex next door had to be evacuated.

He says the smoke alarms aren’t functioning due to all the smoke coming from the fire.

McConnell says he wouldn’t allow those residents to sleep there unprotected.

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